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Wednesday, 13 February 2013 23:56

Hooray for Hollywood!

Written by Bob Wilcox
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The Details

L-R:  Michael James Reed and Christopher Hickey
L-R: Michael James Reed and Christopher Hickey newjewishtheatre.org / John Lamb

David Mamet began writing screenplays in 1981, when he was already a very successful playwright. His experience in Hollywood did not improve the opinion of the human race he had expressed in early plays like "American Buffalo" and "The Water Engine".

In 1988, he wrote "Speed-the-Plow," a play about a pair of movie producers. Bobby Gould has just been made head of production for a major studio, a position one step down from the top. His buddy and frequent collaborator, Charlie Fox, has always been a rung below Bobby on the Hollywood ladder. Bobby agrees with Charlie when he says they're whores, willing to sell themselves, their integrity, anything they have to climb that ladder.

Charlie has just come into possession of a package that includes a major star who likes the script for a buddies movie set in a prison that Charlie gave him. It's no worse and no better than most movies of its very popular type. With that star in it, it will make fame and fortune for Bobby and Charlie.

But Bobby gets derailed by Karen, the temp who's replacing his ill secretary. She wants him to make a movie of a pretentious novel about the radiation destroying the world that he's been asked to give a courtesy read. He and Charlie have mocked it as box office poison, but Karen convinces him that he can make morally positive art of it. And Bobby seems to feel the need for such affirmation.

Karen could be seen as another example of Mamet's reputed misogynistic tendencies. But she's no worse than Bobby and Charlie. She wants the same things; she just uses different tools to achieve them. And she has less experience at the game. Mamet does seem to suggest that it's best when the guys stick together.

At the New Jewish Theatre, Michael James Reed takes over the stage with Charlie's nervous energy, his excitement about the project he's snared. It's a delicious performance. As Bobby, Christopher Hickey plays with more restraint, with an oddly rather flat voice at first. But I suspect Tim Ocel, who is a very smart director, has wanted to emphasize the contrast in the positions and the styles of the two men. And Hickey has the difficult task of convincing us, which Mamet's script doesn't really do, that Bobby is as needy and therefore as susceptible to Karen's persuasion as he must appear to be. Sigrid Sutter does a lovely job of hiding Karen's intentions behind naïve sincerity, only occasionally letting the facade crack slightly.

Dunsi Dai's set, with a wall covered with photos of actors, displays Hollywood's commodification of people and reinforces the play as a metaphor for the questionable ethics of a market economy. Michele Friedman Siler gives Bobby a more expensive outfit than Charlie. Matthew Koch's sound design cranks up full-blown epic orchestral sound tracks, and Maureen Berry lights brightly.

Mamet makes exciting theatre, and so does the New Jewish Theatre with "Speed-the-Plow".

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