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Speed-the-Plow

Of course, an ingredient of all satire, even Mamet’s dark satire of Hollywood, is that it doesn’t have to be this way. But no hope lingers in the wings of this production. Nevertheless, Daniel Fish’s realization of this vintage Mamet expose is tight as a piano wire right to the end. The actors inhabit their characters with ferocious, dismaying believability.

SPEED-THE-PLOW

By David Mamet

Center Stage, Baltimore.

1 May 2004


Daniel Fish’s crisp, energetic—though rather depressing—production of Speed-the-Plow at Center Stage grips the audience start to finish in its satin-gloved fist of steel. Three real pros carve out their resistant personal acting spaces, keeping significant physical distance between them except for the seduction and fight scenes, creating dramatic music like some cranky Russian string trio.  

    David Chandler’s character, newly promoted Hollywood studio Head of Production Bobby Gould, is boyish and full of himself, a puer, a Jerry Seinfeld, playing in his new pen, though it turns out to be a lion’s den.  Likeable for his innate intelligence and freshness, he doesn’t see until too late, if he ever sees, that he is surrounded by beasts.  Vincent Guastaferro’s Charlie Fox, who brings him a new Buddy Film to produce, a sure thing because it is the same old prurient thing Hollywood did last year, is brilliantly self-concealed as a nervous second-fiddle, until he erupts in physical violence when he realizes he is about to lose out to a woman.  Lindsay Campbell is the office  “temporary girl,” who offers Gould herself as part of the alternative movie package, The Bridge, a New Age apocalyptic fantasy of redemption through love.

    The scene in Gould’s apartment—not “apart” at all since the same leather and aluminum furniture unites domestic and professional spaces—effectively dramatizes the seducer seduced.  Guy gets girl, and girl gets the deal of a lifetime.  While secretary Karen pitches her movie’s promise of a death and rebirth for Western Civilization, her giant shadow looms on the wall behind.  Gould surrenders to his new vision of himself as someone who can bring good out of Hollywood, and utterly loses his footing in its world of power games.

    Lindsay Campbell manages to seduce the audience a bit too in this scene.  So much so, that when the audience has to reject her as a fraud in the play’s last moments, there is a palpable sense of disappointment in the theatre.  That delicate balance in Mamet’s women—are they opportunities for greater humanity or treacherous sirens, projections of male desire?—tilts toward despair a bit too much at the end of this production.  The audience needs some wise irony to help with its exit from the theatre, back into the mean streets of reality.  There were no smiles after this matinee performance, just the bitter feeling, articulated by the woman next to me, “he tells it like it is.”  Of course, an ingredient of all satire, even Mamet’s dark satire of Hollywood, is that it doesn’t have to be this way.  But no hope lingers in the wings of this production.  Nevertheless, Daniel Fish’s realization of this vintage Mamet expose is tight as a piano wire right to the end.  The actors inhabit their characters with ferocious, dismaying believability.  


        Robert Combs

        George Washington University