Friday, September 11, 2009

speed-the-plow

My review of Modern Muse's production of Mamet's 'Speed-the-Plow' came out in the Post today. But I wrote it long (go figure) and they had to make some cuts.

Here's the original, complete with some references that never had a chance in hell of making it into a Family Newspaper, lol. But I am always hopeful, and I always try anyway.

For your reading pleasure.



SPEED-THE-PLOW
by Kurt Brighton

Like it or not, David Mamet’s 1988 play “Speed-the-Plow” will be forevermore associated with “Entourage” star Jeremy Piven. Not for what he did with the role of Bobby Gould, but for what he didn’t do: finish the run of a 2008 revival. Dropping out of the production after suffering from suspected mercury poisoning--with sushi as the dubious delivery system--was just too weird a story not to be covered extensively.

Mamet’s wry observations aside--he told Variety, “My understanding is that [Piven] is leaving show business to pursue a career as a thermometer,”--the show deserves better.

The “bitching-lamp,” indeed, is lit.

But the script also deserved better--from Mamet. More on that later.

Luckily, here in Denver we have Modern Muse. Their production of “Speed” hits all the right notes: Ari Gold has nothing on Len Matheo as Gould, a mid-level Hollywood sleaze-vendor who has been recently promoted. His buddy, the equally rapacious Charlie Fox is played by Erik Tieze, who also steps up superbly.

The tale is familiar by now, but with typical Mametian twists: soulless Hollywood jerks revel in selling America the dimmest of formulaic tripe, because it’s safe, and it makes them rich. Well, duh.

Bobby is full of the swagger of a newly-minted decider, suddenly having the freedom to green-light films up to $40 million without the approval of his boss, but Matheo also manages to slip in the layer of insecurity that lurks beneath any such promotion. Charlie seeks to take immediate advantage, having secured the rights, which expire in 24 hours, to a shoo-in box office hit.

Bobby and Charlie josh around with other like old fraternity brothers, and the chemistry between Matheo and Tieze is relaxed and genuine. Moreover, under the guidance of director A. Lee Massaro, the two have done a masterful job of interpreting “Mamet-speak,” that odd and oddly stiff, jolting speech that is meant to resemble the way people actually talk, but usually ends up seeming just a bit too precious. Matheo and Tieze manage to cut each other off, ignore each other, and overlap as naturally as is possible, given the style’s strictures.

Wafting around the edges of the crude jokes and good-natured shoving is the unmistakable stench of the power differential that separates the two. In Charlie’s every word you can hear his lascivious hunger--a verbal tumescence, if you will--for The Big Money his friend already enjoys. Each buddy-hug is a near-smothering; each headlock is but one twitch away from becoming a strangulation.

Which brings up the cause of the friction between these two fast friends. This being Mamet, you can guess that it involves one of those people, that minority which makes up 50.1 percent of the human population: the testicularly-deficient. The ovarially-afflicted. The gynocratically-inclined.

Women being the source of all evil and strife in Mamet-land, Lisa DeCaro as the put-upon temporary secretary who is assigned to “courtesy-read” a post-apocalyptic novel written by an award-winning “Eastern fruit” is bound to run up against the sweaty, hairy chest of righteous uber-masculinity that is the beating heart of Mamet’s world.

DeCaro does great work as the wide-eyed secretary, but even as you decide she is devoid of original ideas, intelligence, or even basic common sense, you begin to suspect that she may be just as conniving and greedy as the boys, only not as good at it. Mamet’s done himself one better than usual: women are somehow not only stupid, na├»ve and childish, they may simultaneously be clever, evil tricksters.

While the performances and direction are spot-on--these guys have done all you can with these characters and more--ultimately you walk away from “Speed-the-Plow” dissatisfied. There’s an uneasy sense that Mamet the meta-con man has pulled one over on us, painting himself in shades of self-parody, then sitting back to see how much we’ll bite.

Ultimately the play reads as if it were a bilious, extended character study which someone convinced a reluctant author to stretch out to the bare minimum of 90 minutes.

Huh. Come to think of it, isn’t that exactly what routinely happens with those soulless, Hollywood film scripts?
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