Seat Filler: NYC Theater Guide for December 2009
BY Brandon Voss
December 16 2009 10:10 AM ET
Not all revivals are of shows from 80 years ago. When I first saw Ragtime in 1998, I sat in the very last row against the wall of the uppermost balcony in the cavernous Ford Center — without doubt the worst seat I’ve ever had to date. It didn’t matter because the musical, which out playwright Terrence McNally adapted from E. L. Doctorow’s 1975 novel about American class struggles at the turn of the 20th century, was a transcendent masterpiece. I had better seats at the new Broadway remount of the recent Kennedy Center revival, which is enjoying an open-ended run at the Neil Simon Theatre, but I was disheartened to see that most of the visual fireworks have been stripped away. Luckily, Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens’s moving score doesn’t need spectacle to soar — and if you didn’t see the original, you won’t know what you’re missing.
Also tackling racial issues is, well, Race, David Mamet’s sharp, brutally frank legal drama now playing Broadway’s Ethel Barrymore Theatre and starring James Spader, David Alan Grier, Kerry Washington, and Richard Thomas. Predictably yet powerfully peppered with the c word, f word, and n word, Race, which Mamet also briskly directed, takes place in a law firm office where three lawyers — one black male, one white male, and one younger black female — agree to defend a wealthy white man charged with raping a black woman. Though the accusations are no laughing matter, it’s funny to hear Spader and Grier smartly lament the case’s hopelessness and the general futility of communication between the races. Washington, who’s already played two lesbians and one trans woman on film, admirably holds her own against her virile costars.