The structure is simple: a single set with four characters and an unseen fifth character, a red-sequined dress that the audience only sees on the cover of their Playbill.
The action takes place in an austere, book-lined room in a law firm. The law partners, one black, one white, played by Dennis Haysbert and Eddie Izzard, are deciding whether to take the case of Charles Strickland (Richard Thomas), a rich, white man accused of raping a black woman in a hotel room.
The lawyers’ approach is rational: can they win? What isn’t the client telling? Why did he dismiss his first lawyer? Or did the first lawyer dismiss him? Then back to the question, can they win?
The young and pretty junior lawyer who witnesses their debate interferes in the action making a seemingly novice mistake. Susan’s actions take the play from the surface racial questions to unmasking the deep prejudices within all four characters.
Afton Williamson gives a powerful performance as Susan, the role originated by Kerry Washington. The demure Susan of Act 1 morphs into an angry, vengeful, yet naive, character at the play’s end.
Henry Brown (Dennis Haysbert), is a world-weary realist yet commands the stage in a way his partner should have but couldn’t. Partner Jack Lawson (Eddie Izzard of whom I am a big fan), performed well as the hyper, type-A, star lawyer but didn’t have the presence of the other three actors.
Finally, Richard Thomas (Charles Strickland) will forever be John-Boy Walton to me and I apologize to Mr. Thomas for that. But John-Boy has made good on Broadway and doesn’t give away his guilt or innocence.
Like all Mamet’s work, the play is powerful and lingers in your mind long after the curtain has gone down.