With the decline of the newspapers, mainstream coverage of Broadway and other New York theater has dwindled. The flip side is that there are fewer bigshot reviewers with inflated influence. In response, producers have become hip to the importance of bloggers to getting out advance word about new shows (and then reviewing them).
Today I had the opportunity to meet the all-star cast of the upcoming premiere of David Mamet's new play, Race. David Alan Grier, Kerry Washington, the seemingly ageless Richard Thomas, and James Spader, who confessed that he hasn't done a play in decades, met us upstairs at Red-Eye Grill near Columbus Circle and answered questions about the play, the process, and their own backgrounds.
Understandably, they couldn't tell us anything about the plot. But as the new production of Oleanna reminds us, Mamet's work has a way of generating heat, and the very title of the new play seems to promise a controversial or at least highly thought-provoking evening. Besides, said Thomas, it's "so complex, so many perspectives – to talk about the plot would be reductive. A quick summation would make it seem much simpler than it is. It's about things that no one says. It's strong stuff. Provocative, but not shocking for the sake of being shocking."
"I play," he was willing to squeeze out, "a man in a suit who's in a lot of trouble." And muttered something about lawyers.
Mamet is directing too, which has the benefit that "we don't have that struggle [to understand the writer's intention] because the man is in the room," as Washington put it. "The playwright and director aren't arguing," added Thomas.
About Mamet's famously exacting language, Spader noted that "you can't stumble your way through this material or be off by a syllable." Mamet loves patterns, and they can get ruined if anything like improvisation occurs. At the same time, the play is still being rewritten as the cast works through it in rehearsal, including tiny things like adding an "and," then changing the "and" to a "but" – those little patterns and sounds that mean so much in a Mamet script. And yes, if you're wondering, there's cursing, though Thomas complained, "I have only one 'fuck.'" ("Richard, you're married," Grier interjected.) "And I'm afraid if I don't say it right I might lose it."