Monday, October 20, 2008

Review: "Speed-The-Plow"

Twenty years ago Broadway saw the premiere of David Mamet's three-person play "Speed-the-Plow", a vicious expose of Hollywood and, by extension, the nature of American capitalism. I remember when it opened in 1988 (oh yes, I remember it well) because Madonna was making her Broadway debut. It also starred Joe Mantegna as hot shot movie producer Bobby Gould and Ron Silver as his uberloyal assistant Charlie Fox and has been revived many times since.

The most recent rival opened on Broadway last week and stars Jeremy Piven from Entourage as Bobby, Raul Esparza (Pushing Daisies and last year's Broadway revival of "Company") as Charlie, and Elisabeth Moss from Mad Men as Betsy (can you imagine playing a part originated by Madonna? The pressure!). The plot revolves around a can't miss movie project that Charlie brings to Bobby that they know will make them both very rich. In the meantime they make a bet for $500 that Bobby can sleep with his new secretary Betsy. Bobby lures Betsy to his house by asking her to read and report on a silly book that will never get made into a movie. But then ...

Needless to say, the clashing of sex and ambition leads to the story's not-terribly surprising ending. The moral of this story: doing what is right is unimportant if it gets in the way of making money. Making the movie that means something and has a positive message is irrelevant if it doesn't put people in the seats. A conscience is the enemy of ambition. Money conquers all.

This new production may be the most Mametesque of Mamet plays: a fast moving, bleak morality tale with super-stylized dialogue and a minimalist set. Piven is hypnotic as Bobby Gould, and while his performance reminds you a great deal of his character on Entourage, he crafts a man who wants to do the right thing but can't put his ambition aside. Elisabeth Moss does a decent job as Betsy but, to be fair to her, her part is a little underwritten (Mamet has never created a great female character in all honesty). The real star, the real blazing talent in this show, is Raul Esparza. He is a Broadway star if there ever was one and his Charlie Fox -- a totally heartless, self-centered narcissist -- is searing. I saw him in "Company" last year where he created a lovable Bobby but his talent is such that he does a completely convincing 180 to become the devil incarnate. His performance alone is worth the "price of admission."

So see "Speed-the-Plow" if you can. In these brutal economic times, it's a good reminder of how the almighty dollar controls us all.


  1. I'm seeing it Saturday and I'm uber excited about possibly meeting Mr. Piven afterwards!


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