A rush of Mamet hits the stage with Speed-the-Plow.
By Kay Kipling
If you’re still emerging from your holiday cocoon of too much sleep, food and drink, there’s nothing like a shot of Mamet to jolt you wide awake.
That’s David Mamet, of course, the playwright responsible for such hard-hitting theatrical works as American Buffalo, Glengarry Glen Ross and the piece currently on exhibit at the Cook Theater in an FSU/Asolo Conservatory production, Speed-the-Plow. The play dates from the late ‘80s (and was partly famous then for starring Madonna in the female role), but it’s just as trenchant in its dissection of the Hollywood movie business—and by extension, much of American industry—as it was then.
The play opens with that typical stop-and-start Mamet dialogue, as two longtime toilers in the fields of Hollywood dreams converse about their latest project. Bobby (Jason Peck) has been recently promoted and can now greenlight any production $40 million or under without going upstairs to his boss; Charlie (Kevin O’Callaghan) has a great new idea for his friend: a buddy/prison pic starring an established movie star. Sound revolutionary?
It’s not meant to, for as Charlie and Bobby know, a film cannot be good if it does not make money, and Hollywood makes money by giving audiences slightly altered copies of what they saw last year. Enter Karen (Elisabeth Ahrens), Bobby’s temp secretary, who has an idea of her own for a movie after Bobby asks her to read an “artsy” novel about the end of the world to get her opinion—a ploy to get her to sleep with him.
Elisabeth Ahrens, Jason Peck and Kevin O’Callaghan in Speed-the-Plow.
Speed-the-Plow rushes along (it’s just 80 minutes long, no intermission) with the sort of sharp, biting wit and tension you’d expect from Mamet, but the second scene slows down as it creates a mood in which Karen actually tempts the cynical Bobby into thinking he can make a change in his life and in Hollywood history. The cast members interact smoothly together as well as create character definition on their own; in Andrei Malaev-Babel’s staging and on James Florek’s set (a huge desk that can be transformed into a simpler platform) the three angles of this triangle are quite clear. (The set itself, though, can be a little distracting at times; one feels the actors have to be careful in their movements to avoid falling—perhaps intentional, but still distracting.)
Speed-the-Plow continues through Jan. 20 on the Cook stage; call 351-8000 or visit asolo.org for tickets.