I'm a big fan of the works of playwright David Mamet, and with his play, Speed the Plow, he takes aim at the cutthroat world of Hollywood. It's a fascinating look at what sells and what doesn't when you're talking about the big screen. And, it also shows how friendships can be pushed to the brink by perceived betrayals. Marked by solid performances from the cast, the play is funny and telling in equal measure. The current production by The New Jewish Theatre is nicely constructed and executed, as well as providing ample food for thought.
Bobby Gould is head of production for a major studio, and a project is brought to him by his friend Charlie Fox. It seems that Charlie has managed to wrangle a major star to participate in a prison-buddy movie, and rather than take it to another studio, he's giving Bobby first crack at the project, with the stipulation that they meet immediately with the head of the studio to get it green lit. The possibility seems to good to be true, and Bobby offers Charlie a co-producing position on the picture. Meanwhile, Bobby has also been given a novel about the end of the world that he's expected to give a courtesy read. The novel doesn't initially strike him as a commercial project that will turn a profit, so he gives the book to his temporary secretary, Karen, to evaluate. Karen arrives that evening at Bobby's house and is excited and moved by what she's read, and after they have intimate relations he's changed his mind and decided to present the novel to the head of the studio instead of the prison picture. Naturally, when he tells Charlie about his decision, Charlie's temper flares as he sees a golden opportunity going down the drain.
Christopher Hickey is good as Bobby, initially excited by the prospect of bringing Charlie's script to the attention of boss, but backing out once he's had his opinion changed by his secretary. Michael James Reed is great as the moody Charlie, and when Bobby tells him he's changed his mind he physically assaults him, disappointed in his friend's sudden change of heart. Sigrid Sutter also does fine work as Karen, and her enthusiasm over thebook's possibilities, and what she sees as an important message it has to deliver sways Bobby in her favor, but Charlie is livid. He thinks the book is overly artsy garbage that has no chance at pulling an audience and making money for the studio. Besides, he interprets Karen's actions as the telltale signs of someone trying to get ahead in the business. The interaction between these three characters/actors is fascinating to watch, and delivers a very telling portrait of the inner workings of the Hollywood system, demonstrating how undeniably flawed it is.
Tim Ocel's direction is well done and makes the most of each humorous and dramatic moment. Dunsi Dai contributes the scenic design which is on par with his usually fine standards, and Maureen Berry's lighting keeps the action clearly in focus. Michele Friedman Siler's costumes are good fits for the characters, and Shaun Sheley does a nice job choreographing the one-sided fight scene between an angry Charlie and an initially swayed Bobby.
The New Jewish Theatre's engaging and amusing production of Speed the Plow is well worth checking out, and it continues through February 24, 2013.