Story: Bobby Gould and Charlie Fox have clawed and scrapped their way through the celluloid jungle known as Hollywood for more than a decade. Now, Bobby has a corner office at a big production company and Charlie has brought him a killer script. It’s by a hot writer named Doug Brown, a ‘buddy movie,’ and Charlie says it’ll make boatloads o’ money for both of them. It’ll also put their names together on the silver screen as producers of this can’t-miss hit.
There’s one catch, though: Charlie needs an answer from Bobby by the next morning, or his ship with this rich cargo might sail to another port. Bobby is all set to do it, and they plan to celebrate. Boys being boys, though, Charlie makes a reckless bet with Bobby that the latter will not be able to bed down the secretary a temp agency has sent to him while his regular secretary is out.
Bobby takes the bet, and then somehow becomes convinced by the temp, Karen, to focus his attentions on a nuclear holocaust film based on a throwaway script Bobby gave her to read without a second thought. Charlie won’t go away gently, though. It’s showdown time at the not-so-OK Corral.
Highlights: David Mamet earned a Tony nomination in 1988 for Best Play for this manic, high-energy look at the fast-paced, high-stakes world of movie production. In many ways, Speed-the-Plow (the title is from a traditional bromide stating “Industry produces wealth, God speed the plow”) is textbook Mamet. It’s filled with four-letter words spewed out in machine-gun style by frantic, over-sexed boys masquerading as men, where women are merely tools and toys.
For the first time in its illustrious history, New Jewish Theatre is presenting a work by Mamet, one of the great playwrights of the last 40 years in American theater. Director Tim Ocel’s production utilizes a trio of savvy performers to bring “Mametspeak” dialogue, the playwright’s gifted way with words, to the NJT stage with glittering results.
Other Info: Speed-the-Plow wildly vacillates in tone from its madcap start with Bobby and Charlie chattering Tinsel Town nonsense to a screeching lull when Karen works on Bobby’s surprisingly fragile psyche to the volcanic eruption of Act II when Charlie reacts to the news that his movie is not going to be made. The roller coaster of emotions inherent in such dramatic shifts in momentum can be exhilarating but also stifling to a certain extent.
Christopher Hickey as Bobby and Michael James Reed as Charlie cleverly capture the cadence in Mamet’s words, riding the rhythms of his speech patterns to expert effect, particularly Reed. Charlie is a ticking time bomb of overzealous emotion, an ‘A’ personality feverishly hoping to make his belated mark in the business, and on opening night Reed was visibly sweating as he consumed his role.
Hickey plays well off both Reed and Sigrid Sutter, who brings a languid, cool interpretation to the perplexed temporary worker who takes Bobby’s insincere instructions to heart and virtually remakes him in the process. Watching Hickey slowly lose his identity and his beliefs in one elongated scene with Sutter is both sobering and fascinating.
Dunsi Dai’s scenic design is a playful combination of vanity photos, courtesy of props master Wendy Renee Greenwood, strung haphazardly on the blinds and walls of Bobby’s office. That office features classic furniture as befits his new status, while the corner of his room is oddly littered with painting equipment, all of which is removed for the seduction scene in Bobby’s home.
Michele Friedman Siler’s costumes deck all three characters out in business attire for the most part, Maureen Berry’s lighting underscores the show business look and Matthew Koch’s whimsical sound design is full of the larger-than-life bravado of movie scores from The Great Escape to The Magnificent Seven to Lawrence of Arabia. A special nod goes to Shaun Sheley for Charlie’s impulsive attack on Bobby.
It’s fire and brimstone, Mamet style, as Ocel and his charges make the most of their quixotic adventure into film fame and fortune, speeding the plow as best they can.
Group: New Jewish Theatre
Venue: Wool Theatre, 2 Millstone Campus Drive
Dates: February 13, 14, 16, 17, 20, 21, 23, 24
Tickets: $35-$39; contact 442-3283 or newjewishtheatre.org
Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of John Lamb