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David Mamet's pungent take on Tinseltown gets a more-than-acceptable revival. logo
Raul Esparza, Jeremy Piven, and Elisabeth Moss
in Speed-the-Plow
(© Brigitte Lacomb)
Instances of successful-playwrights-turned-screenwriters-and-filmmakers biting the Hollywood hand that feeds them are a dime a dozen. So, originality isn't a crucial element in Speed-the-Plow, David Mamet's punch in the Tinseltown nose, which is receiving a more-than-acceptable 20th anniversary revival at the Barrymore Theatre Yet while director Neil Pepe and his cast meet most of the script's demands, the production never quite reaches the same fully explosive possibilities as Matthew Warchus' recent London production, starring Kevin Spacey and Jeff Goldblum.

What Mamet brings to this frequently-told tale is a theatrical dynamism that throws off so many sparks it looks as if he's produced a fistful of fresh fireworks. He does it by shoving on stage newly promoted Hollywood executive Bobby Gould (Jeremy Piven) with cockily yet desperately hopeful would-be producer Charlie Fox (Raul Esparza), who are all set to collaborate on a commercial hit -- and then tosses in a devilish complication: Bobby's temp secretary Karen (Elisabeth Moss).

While Karen's at Bobby's pad in the evening -- lured there in part on a bet that the two operators have -- she talks the malleable fellow into junking Charlie's surefire prison flick project in favor of adapting a literary novel of the sort that has Oscar potential, a turn of events which sends Charlie into a tailspin the next morning.

The 90-minute piece is rich in Mamet's signature touches, notably the cornucopia of hilariously damning dialogue rat-a-tatted as if from an AK-47. Spewing his objection to putting the novel under question on the screen, the angry Charlie says: "Hey, I believe in the Yellow Pages, Bob, but I don't want to film it." Also by the luck of timing, there are several lines about "mavericks" that get today's audiences chuckling -- not to mention numerous horrifyingly comic takes on the dumbing down and screwing up of the culture that seem just as relevant today as when they were written.

Bobby and Charlie are part of the phalanx of deficiently mature men that Mamet habitually sees populating the modern world. The compromises that make up their survival tactics are too true to be ignored -- a consistent Mamet strength. Also present here is a version of the enigmatic woman whom Mamet often sees disturbing what he seems to wish were an unfettered man's world.

Broadway veteran Esparza -- who finds new venom every time he articulates "Bob" -- gives a performance that taps all Charlie's uncertainty and volatility. Moss, who plays career gal Peggy Olson on AMC's Mad Men, tidily strikes a nearly impossible balance between naivete and ambition. For his part, Piven seems commendably intent on not bringing any of his well-known Entourage character, agent, Ari Gold, to a character that can actually call for Ari Gold elements. But while Piven's more reticent interpretation is supported by the script, it ultimately diffuses the stepped-on landmine that Speed-the-Plow can truly be.

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