Matthew Del Negro and Andrew Polk
in Speed-the-Plow
(© DavidAllenStudio.com)
Matthew Del Negro and Andrew Polk
in Speed-the-Plow
(© DavidAllenStudio.com)
You do have to wait for it, but there is a moment when the American Conservatory Theater's production of David Mamet's masterful Speed-the-Plow, now at the American Conservatory Theatre, catapults itself from being a merely notable production into one of sheer brilliance. But even until then, director Loretta Greco has helped steer an outstanding three-person cast through a rigorous and challenging play about two Hollywood pals trying to make a movie, and the woman who comes between them.

It's not easy tackling the challenge of a Mamet script. Sentences cut off, with characters interrupting one another mid-sentence with the grace of best friends and old married couples. Understandably, this way of talking in an artificial setting can sometimes trip up a cast. They'll pause unnaturally, frightened to run over their cast member's lines. In this production, the cast nails Mamet's signature character banter, bringing a flawless seamlessness to dialogue that hardly just rolls off the tongue.

First among equals is Andrew Polk, who doesn't just play scriptwriter Charlie Fox; it is as if he truly becomes the borderline has-been who is as ruthless and cunning as he is earnest. The increasingly desperate Fox is the longtime pal of Bobby Gould (Matthew Del Negro).who has just landed a sweet gig as head of production for a major Hollywood studio, and the grand plan is to pitch Fox's script to the studio's top executive after a major star unexpectedly signs onto the project.

The next morning, Gould turns the tables and announces that, instead, he will make a pitch based on a suggestion from Karen (Jessi Cambpbell), the office temp he sleeps with the night before. It is a scene that unfolds with heart-stopping, unexpected intensity, and Polk must be commended for taking the audience with him through Charlie's amazing cycle of transformations. He is at one moment the villain, the next a best friend, and, at other points, the underdog you so desperately want to win. Moreso than the men, Campbell has her work cut out for her. Karen is a character that can easily get lost in between the more dominant personalities that characterize Fox and Gould, but the actress holds her own.

Although the disparity in age between Fox and Gould is a questionable choice -- here Gould is probably 15 years Fox's junior -- this is an unusually well-crafted production of a bracing work of theater.