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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Thus David Mamet's Speed-the-Plow nails the center of Hollywood dead on and in a way that only Mamet can, with his testosterone charged and highly acerbic dialogue. The beautiful Geffen Theater is the perfect setting for a revival of the show, directed by Randall Arney, which was nominated for a Tony almost twenty years ago but still manages to feel timely.
Arney's direction works well, as the actors keep our attention riveted with constant movement. The scenic design is perfect, easily plunging us into a freshly painted Hollywood office, complete with filtered light leaking in from slatted blinds in the background. It was surprising, however, that none of the scene changes were covered by music. For such a well executed production, it seemed odd to sit in the dark waiting for the next scene to begin.
In a three person show, the cast can make or break the night. Luckily, Gregg Germann paves the way as Charles Fox, in a tour-de-force performance, sparkling with frenetic energy and completely transforming into his character. You can't take your eyes off him, as he maneuvers through humorous facial expressions, mannerisms, and pitch perfect comedic timing. Germann's in perfect control of the audience, and the stage lights up whenever he is present.
Tenney doesn't quite have Germann's energy, but does a commendable job as power hungry exec Bob Gould. He and Germann spar and build off one another, stroking each other's egos and feeding one another's gluttonous bids for power. Tenney brings a surprising vulnerability to Gould. We believe that, despite Fox's perfectly commercial and money making project, he may actually want to find a picture that really speaks to him.
Enter Alicia Silverstone as temporary assistant Karen. Mamet's female characters are always a little harder to like, and although Silverstone brings a clear naivete and cutesy quality to Karen, we are left wanting. Gould asks Karen to give a "courtesy read" to an esoteric piece of literature called The Bridge; or, Radiation, and the Half-Life of Society. Not exactly a sure fire hit, but Karen takes it on with zeal.
Fox, of course, thinks that Gould is just trying to get into Karen's pants, which we agree might be the case as Gould invites Karen to discuss the novel at his house in the hills. By the end of the first act, we have transitioned to Gould's grand abode, replete with a view of the Hollywood skyline at night—again, visually perfect, but it's here that the production falters.
The energy lags, and the stagnant staging doesn't help. To give Silverstone credit, Mamet's female parts are never easy to portray. Still, it's hard to believe Karen's passion, as she espouses the theories in the book without convincing us she's capable of understanding them. Although the air headed quality of her character sometimes works, there's an intellect lacking from her delivery. The rhythm of Mamet's style is lost.
Luckily, Act 2 picks us right back up. Gould and Fox throw around four letter words as often as they breathe. They fill the stage with dialogue that leaves us watching a ping pong match of lightning speed, easily volleying razor sharp comments and retorts without missing a beat.
This Mametian rhythm, if you will, is what makes his plays stand apart and keeps audience members returning to his work. Even though Mamet often emphasizes the revolting misogynistic tendencies present in many of his male characters, he also touches on an honest and brutal revelation of how people actually think and act—and it ain't pretty—especially when women join the fray. Despite its flaws, Speed-the-Plow is worthwhile. If opening weekend was any indication, Los Angelean crowds will have a ball watching this wicked and thoroughly entertaining satire, even as the show skewers the very "industry" in which it is set.
For more about David Mamet and links to other reviews of his play, check out our Mamet Backgrounder.
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide
At This Theater