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David Mamet's "Speed-the-Plow" at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre
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David Mamet's "Speed-the-Plow" at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre

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By David Mamet
(David Mamet Bio)

Directed by Neil Pepe

At the
Ethel Barrymore Theatre
243 West 47th Street

Jeremy Piven, Raúl Esparza, Elisabeth Moss

Scenic Design: Scott Pask
Costume Design: Laura Bauer
Lighting Design: Brian MacDevitt
Casting: Telsey + Company
Production Stage Manager: Matthew Silver
Technical Supervision: Larry Morley
Fight Director: J. David Brimmer
Company Manager: Bruce Klinger
Assoc. Producers: Rebecca Gold/Debbie Bisno
General Management: Richards/Climan, Inc.
Press Representative: Jeffrey Richards Associates/Irene Gandy

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
December 9, 2008

Only David Mamet could create a play with choreographed dialogue, words and phrases with a rhythm all their own, with three characters leading, then following, then joining in syncopated verbal tempos, with pregnant pauses and mesmerizing monologues. Speed-the-Plow, Mamet’s metaphorical Tango, takes place in Hollywood in the late 1980’s (It was first produced on Broadway in 1988.). Bobby Gould (Jeremy Piven) is the new Hollywood boss of longtime colleague, Charlie Fox (Raúl Esparza), recently seen in Pinter’s The Homecoming. They verbally swirl in a duo of edgy language (that reminded me of my two-week, college summer job in the Garment District), always poised to pounce, two panthers, like Tangueros with hidden knives. The knives here were the power-plays, and Charlie had arrived to push a film proposal down Bobby’s throat, with the added thrust of their boss’s expected approval. Charlie was now working for a longtime associate, and he was about to suddenly shift that level of power.

The appointment was set, just as the third character arrived, Karen (Elisabeth Moss), an office temp, perhaps ingénue, perhaps the third panther. With creeping, quiet choreography, Karen added an erotic element to this verbal Tango, as lust enhanced greed. Charlie and Bobby wanted to make a fortune, to be rich, to be famous, to be powerful, and Charlie’s task contained the added challenge of usurping the lead in this psychological whirl of wits. A bet is placed, with Bobby betting he can get Karen to bed that very night, complicating his choice between two scripts (two books) on which potential films can be produced, one moral and one violent. Karen is sent home by Bobby to read the book of moral questions and to meet him later at his home to discuss the book’s merits. Another Tango ensues, more sensual, more ethereal. The next morning, back in Bobby’s office, the leads and rhythms and mood shift twice more.

Jeremy Piven, as Bobby Gould, is quick with sarcasm, muscular in momentum, and always aware of his superior status. Raúl Esparza, as Charlie Fox, is so taut and intense, that he seemed on the verge of explosion, a ticking time bomb, even when exercising restraint. Elisabeth Moss, as Karen, knew how to mask her ambition in sexuality, to be the symbolically endearing “dance partner”, appearing to follow, while seducing the lead. Speed-the-Plow should be seen more than once, as Mamet fires off his dialogue with instantaneous comments, phrases, insults, and innuendo. See it once to listen to the rhythmically devilish dialogue, and then see it again to watch the shifts in the theatrically internalized and connected relationships. Scott Pask’s scenery is deliberately uncluttered, so the audience can focus on the characters. Kudos to the Cast, kudos to David Mamet, and kudos to Neil Pepe’s tight direction.

Jeremy Piven and Raúl Esparza
in "Speed the Plow"
Courtesy of Brigitte Lacombe

Raúl Esparza, Jeremy Piven, Elisabeth Moss
in "Speed the Plow"
Courtesy of Brigitte Lacombe

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