REVIEW: Speed-the-Plow (American Theater Company)

Strong “Plow” ends in the slow-lane

 

Speed-the-Plow Mamet - American Theater Company 3

   
American Theater Company presents
   
Speed-the-Plow
  
Written by David Mamet
Directed by
Rick Snyder
at
ATC, 1909 W. Byron (map)
through October 24  |  tickets: $35  |  more info

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

Although I’ve never actually seen someone’s eyeballs turn into dollar signs, Lance Baker’s portrayal of Charlie Fox in ATC’s Speed-the-Plow comes pretty close. There’s plenty of greed in David Mamet’s 1988 play, which tears into the artist’s antithesis, the Hollywood producer. Rick Snyder’s production of this usually hilarious, occasionally stomach-churning look behind-the-scenes fires on all cylinders. While the weaker of the two parts that make up their Mamet Repertory, this Speed-the-Plow will definitely make you feel slimy by the end.

Bertolt Brecht once claimed that he wanted to write plays about everyday, yet crucial, aspects of society, such as grain prices. Although his style is pretty far from Brechtian, Mamet’s choice of subject matter is pretty similar to Bertolt. Pulitzer prize winning Glengarry Glen Ross isn’t about such oft-mined topics like love, death, or family – it’s about business. Speed-the-Plow stays in the same vein, pitting profits against artistic merit with several souls hanging in the balance.

The play centers on producer Bobby Gould (Darrell W. Cox), who wields the power to greenlight one project a year and needs to make his decision count. His friend and subordinate Charlie brings him a buddy flick with a big star attached, if they make the call within 24 hours. But then Karen (Nicole Lowrance, in a role originated by Madonna, no joke), a temp worker covering for Bobby’s secretary, catches his attention. In an attempt to impress her, he throws her a novel to read, something which he knows can’t translate into a blockbuster. However, the book changes her outlook on life, and she does what she can to change his mind.

Speed-the-Plow Mamet - American Theater Company 2Compared to Oleanna, the other talk-a-thon in American Theater’s David Mamet repertory (our review ★★★½), I find Speed-the-Plow hard to crack. For me, the cataclysmic last moments between John and Carol resonate so much deeper than the scheming of Bobby and Charlie. Speed-the-Plow is part cynical comedy, part morality tale, and part artist’s manifesto; there’s a lot to take in, especially when the dialogue moves faster than NASCAR. Also, the play may also be predicting the Apocalypse, but I’m never sure.

Maybe the best part of the whole “repertory” concept is watching Cox switch from John’s loose sweaters and glasses to Bobby’s slicked-back hair and gold chains. The man obviously has a lot of fun with Gould’s skeeziness. Sitting at the top, Gould has no friends, only people who want to get stuff from him. Cox makes this clear throughout the play, through both jokes and breakdowns. He’s helped by Baker, who is great at conniving. Baker bounces around like he’s had far too much coffee, or maybe not enough. Cox keeps right up with him. Lowrance’s Karen is strikingly different than Carol—she’s way more flirtatious and paints her fingernails, although both women have a mousey timidity about them. The text calls for Lowrance to slow down the pace after the lightning rounds between Gould and Fox, but here it’s a bit too much. The second act, which features mostly monologues from Karen as she tries to communicate the effect the novel has on her, drags considerably. There’re a lot of big words, very little movement, and it just gets hard to follow after awhile. The pacing would probably be perfect for most other plays, but for Mamet it feels like a piggyback ride on a sloth.

The production regains it’s ferocity in the last act, and one leaves the theatre feeling hollow inside. Yes, everyone is sad that art gets the shaft, but I felt more pity for Bobby, whom everyone has a fork stuck in. You can find out more about his fate in the one-act semi-sequel Mamet wrote, Bobby Gould in Hell.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
 

 

Speed-the-Plow Mamet - American Theater Company

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Legal papers filed against Jeremy Piven? Move on already…

NEW YORK — The producers of “Speed-the-Plow” have filed a grievance with Actors’ Equity Association, the stage actors’ union, against Jeremy Piven for abruptly leaving the Broadway revival last month.

News of the filing was announced Friday by lead producer Jeffrey Richards, who declined further comment.

The actor quit the David Mamet comedy less than two months after it opened to favorable reviews at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. Piven’s doctor said the 43-year-old actor was unable perform because of high levels of mercury in his system, possibly caused by eating large amounts of raw fish.

Piven’s publicist, Samantha Mast, called the producers’ claims “absurd and outrageous.”

Said Mast:

“He withdrew from the play due to medical necessity on the advice of his doctors, after he was hospitalized and warned by his physicians that enforced rest was necessary in order to avoid serious medical problems, including a heart attack,”

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Evanston-Native Jeremy Piven ends Broadway run because of ill health

JeremyPivenJeremy Piven, born and raised in Evanston, IL, (and whose mother founded the Piven Theatre) has abruptly ended his run in Broadway’s Speed-the-Plow, (by playwright David Mamet, also originally from Chicago) after missing Tuesday evening’s performance and a Wednesday matinee

Piven, 43, has told producers that he hasn’t been feeling well due to a “high mercury count.”

But playwright David Mamet is skeptical.

“I talked to Jeremy on the phone, and he told me that he discovered that he had a very high level of mercury,” Mamet said. “So my understanding is that he is leaving show business to pursue a career as a thermometer.”  (Aside: no, Mamet did not say that!!  David’s got his claws out!!)

The show will still go on through February, Mamet said.

“The good news is that some really great actors will be helping out and stepping in, which to me is a sign of great heroism and friendship,” he said.

According to the New York Post, about 300 theater patrons requested about 300 theater patrons requested refunds after it was announced that Piven was MIA.  (which I guess tells you how much star-power makes a difference on Broadway).

[hat-tip: Us Magazine)

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