note: entire contents copyright 2009 by Sheila Barth
When David Mamet’s one-act, edgy, satiric play, “Speed-the-Plow” opened at the Royale Theatre on Broadway on May 3, 1988, the box office nearly sold out beforehand, because pop icon, bad girl Madonna played the sole female lead, Karen. Her co-stars in this cast of three were giants in the industry also, with actor Joe Mantegna portraying fast-talking producer, Bobby Gould, and Ron Silva portraying his underling, obeisant co-worker, Charlie Fox.
Since then, the play has been reprised over and over again, with strong, all-star casts, which is needed more than ever in these cynical, greedy times. The plot is also timeworn - two Hollywood producers battling the age-old goal of art vs. money -producing a schlock movie that’s sure to be a box office success because of its star, or daring to even suggest that an artsy movie, based on an apocalyptic book idealistically written with drivel passages - “The Bridge: or Radiation and the Half-Life of Society; A study of Decay” - be produced instead. A pretty young temp worker drives a wedge between the two movie titans, with her idealistic, naive views, but eventually shows her selfish side, too, thus deep-sixing the undiscovered artsy book.
Perhaps in 1988, when Mamet wrote this fast-paced play that relies on split-second timing and salty dialogue, its premise was fresher to the public. Today, we’ve been deluged with the art vs. materialism, cynicism vs. idealism, and casting couch themes out of Hollywood. Mamet knew and saw it all, having worked in Hollywood, behind the scenes, but there’s nothing surprising here that we haven’t seen or heard before. We know that in Hollywood, the bottom line is what will sell, will make mountains of money. We know that Hollywood folks aren’t exactly nice people, and many would sell their souls and bodies to score big. We also know they talk dirty - so dirty, that New Rep Theatre has a dirty talk donation jar they ask patrons to contribute to, to “clean up their language” in the play. While the dialogue relies on a plethora of four-letter words, that, too, has lost its shock value in today’s society.
So why see “Speed-the-Plow”? Artistic Director Kate Warner refers to it as “85 minutes of fast-paced dialogue, wit, and phenomenal acting”. I agree with her references to the cast, who are all accomplished, well-known actors, aptly directed by Robert Walsh. Robert Pemberton as fast-talking, scheming, self-impressed head producer Bobby Gould is great, especially when he tries to change his ways and produce instead a work of sci-fi art, based on the musings of his one-day temp office worker, Karen, whom he bets will bed him that night. Aimee Doherty, Boston favorite actress portraying Karen, is attractive and believably naive when she feigns humility and sincerity, incessantly calling herself naive to Bobby, but she’s basically as manipulative as everyone else in Movieland.
The big surprise is versatile Boston actor Gabriel Kuttner, who as meek Charlie Fox undergoes a significant transformation. He is self-effacing, humble, yet uplifted with hopes of making it big with his sure-fire suggestion he wants Bobby to take to the big boss, knowing it’s a piece of crap; but they’ll both reap millions and recognition in the industry if the boss approves. As Charlie’s goal and future are threatened by Karen’s recommendation, he evolves from mousy follower to a roaring, triumphant lion in the end.
Jeff Adelberg’s lighting changes and J. Hagenbuckle’s between-the-scenes power-paced music and sound design add clout to this production.
BOX INFO:One-woman, one-act, 95-minute show, presented by the Huntington Theatre, currently appearing through Nov. 15 at the Virginia Wimberly Theatre, Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont St., in Boston’s South End. Shows are Tuesday-Thursday, at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, Saturday, 8 p.m.; select Sundays at 7 p.m., with matinees on select Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets $20-$60. Senior, military discounts ($5 off); subscriber, BU community, ($10); 35 and below discount tickets at $25, and also back of row orchestra seats ($20). Check also for actors forums. Call 617-266-0800; visit huntingtontheatre.org, or the BU Theatre or Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts box offices.
BOX INFO:One-act, 85-minute dramatic, satiric play, written by David Mamet, appearing at the New Repertory Theatre, in residence at the Arsenal Center for the Arts, Charles Mosesian Theater, 321 Arsenal St., Watertown, through November 7, Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday, 3:30, 8 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 1, at 2 p.m. with post-show talkback, and at 7:30 p.m.; Wednesday, Nov. 4, at 7:30 p.m. Admission, $35-$54; seniors, $7 discount; student rush, $13. Call 617-923-8487 or visit www.newrep.org.