and by Elon J. Griffith
David Mamet’s new play on Broadway is set in a law firm founded by two male lawyers, one white and one black, who are asked to represent a wealthy and famous white male accused of a raping an African American woman. However, the decision to do so is taken out of their hands by a series of unexpected events.
The play is a mystery, intended to both entertain and challenge the audience. At the same time, the play is also a conversation on the matter of race in America in the post Obama era. The accused choses the firm to represent him because it is a mixed race law firm. The view of each lawyer in the firm of his guilt or innocence and the strategies developed to defend him are consciously or unconsciously based on racial stereotypes.
While the lawyers are partners, it is the white lawyer that appears to dominate. He is the one who made the critical decision to hire a young black female associate despite the objection of his black partner. Sexual attraction and complicated feelings of race based guilt lead the white lawyer to hire an applicant he would have rejected if the applicant had been a white male.
The play is also a commentary on the legal profession and how it choses to defend clients charged with criminal offences. The accused is advised to “cultivate the appearance of contrition”. The strategies for the defence are cynical and manipulative. It is a common stereotype that has some basis in fact, but there are no surprises on this front.
The play could have been set in a law firm anywhere in Canada. The uncertainty and discomfort triggered by conversations about race in the play are part of daily life.
James Spader and David Alan Grier play the partners in the firm, Kerry Washington the young lawyer, and Richard Thomas the accused. The play was both written and directed by David Mamet. Check it out. We would even suggest that you see it with someone of another race. The conversation that follows the play will prove to be well worth it.