Friday, November 11, 2011

Race, at A.C.T.

(Anthony Fusco, Susan Heyward, Chris Butler and Kevin O'Rourke in David Mamet's latest. Photo by Kevin Berne.)

The reason that I wanted to review David Mamet’s Race at A.C.T., even though my editors usually prefer I cover shows with longer runs, is that I thought it would be easy to write about.

I already know what I think about Mamet, I had thought.  I love “Mametspeak”:  His ear for the rhythms of American speech, with all its fragments and profanities and ellipses, and his ability to weave multiple percussive voices into a kind of baroque sinfonia usually make for great musical entertainment.  But he’s such a jerk.  It’s not just that his worldview is bleak, even Hobbesian, his characters all expletive-spouting, tough-guy Machiavels.  It’s that his overblown sense of himself, which this recent Times interview succinctly conveys, comes through in his plays so forcefully that I’m distracted from his drama.

Passionate feelings often make for a better review, I’d observed, so while this play is likely to sink my spirits and rouse my anger, I’ll cover it anyway.

But what I didn’t realize was that I was letting my prejudice write the article.  Because I’d made so many assumptions about Mamet, the first draft of the review sounded like a confused collection of unsubstantiated assertions—knowing, even disdainful, in tone but devoid of the courtesy of drawing the reader into my reaction, making him feel what I felt.

My editor sent it back for major rewrites, and the second time around, I sought to spend the entire review systematically “proving” one feeling.  While the final product isn’t my best work, it’s certainly better than my first draft.

A lot of my weaker openings suffer from an abyss of generalizations.  So one point I want to focus on in the two reviews I’ll be writing this weekend—of Pelleas and Melisande at the Cutting Ball and The Chalk Boy at the Impact—is finding a way to incorporate images, details, evidence earlier, even in first paragraphs, but without sounding like a classic, high school-style “scene setting” hook (a technique I teach my poor little students).

But I suppose what makes an introduction feel fresh is less about technique (how many of those can there be, anyway?) than language. 

Roget’s, here I come. 

Race continues through Nov. 13 at A.C.T., 415 Geary St., SF.  Info here.


  1. Shot in the dark. Do you know ANYONE who can still get tickets or sponsors who might have extras to the 2 remaining shows in Cleveland. I tracked down 1 for the 3PM show on Sunday at the Beck Center for Race but I think its pretty much hopeless to get my brother and father tickets...please email me at if you can help. I'm a huge redbelt and glengarry fan among his other brilliant dialogue masterpieces...

  2. Sorry, I don't -- There are always no-shows, though, so rush tickets might be your best bet. Good luck!