Saturday, February 9, 2013

SPEED-THE-PLOW • New Jewish Theatre

NJT’s third show of its 16th season features its first play by David Mamet -- Speed-the-Plow, directed here by Tim Ocel.  Debuting in 1988, this play, as many Mamet plays like American Buffalo, Glengarry Glen Ross, November and Oleanna do, looks at moral corruption and power -- exploring the dirty underbelly of human nature with rapid-fire dialogue and a generous sprinkling of "f" words.  Love…  In this case, the underbelly involves the big Hollywood movie-making scene and the trade-offs that are made, and what makes those trade-offs seem worthwhile.

Bobby Gould (Christopher Hickey) has recently started a new job as the head of production at a major Hollywood studio.  His friend Charlie Fox (Michael James Reed), who's never been quite as high on the totem pole, has all but secured a Hollywood hit-maker to do a film -- a “prison/buddy” flick, guaranteed to make a butt-load of money for Bobby and Charlie both.  Bobby's agreed to pitch it to his boss and have the studio green light the picture, but they’ve only got 24 hours to secure the deal.  While patting themselves on the back and Charlie dreaming of what it will be like to be a ridiculously rich man, they compare their future hit to a novel that Bob’s boss has asked him to read.  A “courtesy read” before they reject it.  It’s called, “The Bridge or, Radiation and the HalfLife of Society", written by an "Eastern sissy writer".  The novel concerns the end of the world with lofty notions about the decay of civilization.  Charlie and Bobby mock it for being too intellectual and abstract to have the makings of a blockbuster.

Michael James Reed (Charlie Fox) and
Christopher Hickey (Bobby Gould).
Photo credit: John Lamb
In the midst of all this, once they finally get their coffee from Bobby's temporary secretary, Karen (Sigrid Sutter), Charlie bets Bob 500 bucks that he can't get Karen to sleep with him.  Charlie suggests that with all of his newly gained power and influence, people may not honestly like Bob for himself, but rather for his position, and Bob's confident veneer starts to crack.  Bobby knows what he is, and what his business is about, but has been able to comfortably settled into it.  Bob and Charlie are two self-described “whores” and “slaves to commerce”, and when wealth and power present themselves in the face of more artsy enterprises, commerce will always trump art.

Sigrid Sutter (Karen) and Christopher Hickey (Bobby Gould).
Photo credit: John Lamb
In an effort to get Karen in the sack, Bobby talks to her about the realities of Hollywood movie-making, and asks Karen to give "The Bridge" a read, hinting that it may advance her career.  Karen enthusiastically reads the novel, and connects with it.  Later that night at Bobby's place where he is trying to seduce her, she attempts to convince him that "The Bridge" should be made into a film instead of the prison film.

The confrontations that follow as the play unfolds show Charlie's tenacity, Karen's ulterior motives and Bobby's struggle with trying to justify the choices he makes.

Michael James Reed (Charlie Fox) and Sigrid Sutter (Karen).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Known for his way with language, using it like a weapon when he chooses to, Mamet’s dialogue can be tough to pull off.  Notes in the press kit reveal that he "actually uses a metronome during rehearsals to perfect the actors' delivery of it."  Again -- love…  A couple of the scenes between Hickey and Reed weren’t quite firing on all cylinders on opening night, but the rhythms settled in during the course of the play, and Reed made for a very energetic, money hungry Charlie Fox and Sutter plays Karen with a beguiling naiveté.  Dunsai Dai's smart set features wooden blinds and suspended black-and-white photographs of Tom Hanks, Natalie Portman, Morgan Freeman, Ellen, Daniel Radcliffe, Brad Pitt and then some.  Maureen Berry's lighting design, Matthew Koch's sound design and Michele Friedman Siler's costume design all work together nicely.

Check it out!  It's playing until the 24th.


Written by David Mamet
Directed by Tim Ocel
Marvin & Harlene Wool Studio, 2 Millstone Campus Drive Creve Coeur
through February 24 | tickets: $35.50 - $39.50
Performances Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30pm, Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm & 7:30pm

Christopher Hickey* (Bobby Gould), Michael James Reed* (Charlie Fox) and Sigrid Sutter (Karen).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Scenic design by Dunsi Dai; lighting design by Maureen Berry; sound design by Matthew Koch; costume design by Michele Friedman Siler; fight choreographer, Shaun Sheley; stage manager, Mary Jane Probst.

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