Volume 78 - Number 23 / NOVEMBER 5 - 11, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Photo by Brigitte Lacombe

Producers Charlie Fox (Raul Esparza) Bobby Gould (Jeremy Piven) and their conniving temp secretary, Karen (Elizabeth Moss), in David Mamet’s “Speed-the-Plow.”

Mamet revival rings relevant
Star-studded cast carry Hollywood tale

SPEED-THE-PLOW
Written by David Mamet
Directed by Neil Pepe
Ethel Barrymore Theatre
243 W. 47th Street
212-239-6200, speedtheplowonbroadway.com

By Scott Harrah

Twenty years ago, the biggest buzz about David Mamet’s “Speed-the-Plow” was Madonna’s casting in the show at the pinnacle of her career. This outstanding revival is now mostly a showcase for Neil Pepe’s razor-sharp directing and superb acting by TV stars Jeremy Piven from “Entourage”, Elisabeth Moss of “Mad Men” and the marvelously prolific stage actor Raul Esparza, giving the best performance of his career to date.

Mamet’s story of neophyte Hollywood producer Bobby Gould (Piven), his best friend and coworker Charlie Fox (Esparza) and their conniving temp secretary, Karen (Moss), has not dated at all. As it was in the 1980s, Hollywood is still a town that primarily finances big-budget drivel to appease the masses, and Mamet’s rapid-fire dialogue is as crisp and potent as ever. There are even a few references to “mavericks” – the annoying catchphrase abused by the John McCain and Sarah Palin presidential campaign. The word may not have been particularly funny in 1988, but it’s especially humorous in an election year of overused political soundbites. It’s just one example of how “Speed-the-Plow” is topical in 2008.

Bobby is about to make his first executive decision for his movie studio by giving the green light to a script for a typically trite sex-and-violence buddy film, but he asks secretary Karen to give a “courtesy” read of a pretentious novel about radiation, God and the end of the world. In the second act, when Karen arrives at Bobby’s home and insists that he instead make a movie adaptation of the convoluted book, his judgment is seriously impaired, and Charlie is livid when he finds out. Charlie has been working with Bobby for 11 years, and he’s not about to see their careers put in jeopardy over the decision of a sexy, self-proclaimed “naïve” secretary.

Mamet’s dialogue can be jarring and, at times, even incomprehensible to those unfamiliar with his work. In the first act, Esparza and Piven brilliantly spew the playwright’s words like literary gunfire, two testosterone-addled men having a verbal ping-pong match. It’s the sort of live theater that wakes one up and demands attention from the very first line. It does not take long to get caught up in the intensity of Mamet’s storyline about the machinations of Tinseltown, especially with such incandescent talent onstage.

Piven is slick in all the right places as Bobby, and Moss is effectively cunning as Karen, but this is really Raul Esparza’s show and his finest hour. As Bobby’s friend and underling, Charlie, Esparza gives off nonstop theatrical fireworks, especially in his emotional and physical meltdown in the show’s final moments. Esparza, known to New York audiences for his roles in recent revivals of Sondheim’s “Company,” Pinter’s “The Homecoming,” and the much-maligned Boy George/Rosie O’Donnell musical “Taboo,” cements his status as one of Broadway’s finest actors with his performance here.

“Speed-the-Plow” is less than 90 minutes, and every scene flashes by with seamless precision. Everything simply works beautifully – the story, the acting, Scott Pask’s minimalist set and Brian McDevitt’s clever lighting design. It’s amazing that “Speed the Plow” – which partially cashed in on the Madonna phenomenon two decades ago – is now more than just a drama about 1980s Hollywood. It’s a story about commerce, ambition and male mindgames that will never be anachronistic and reflects the dark side of our society, making “Speed-the-Plow” as richly textured as any modern American classic.

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