Speed-the-Plow | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Speed-the-Plow 

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Speed-the-Plow, Piven Theatre. Joyce Piven and Jennifer Green's staging of David Mamet's 1988 examination of Hollywood's spiritual void looks and sounds great. And it motors along at a lightning-quick pace that underscores the transitory nature of power brokering in the film industry. But this is a very pure production of a very impure work. With their insistence on glitzy detail and surface texture, Piven and Green vitiate what should be the seediness of the play. Casting is also a concern: though all three cast members--especially F. David Roth as the ratlike Charlie Fox--sink their teeth into Mamet's dialogue, none looks quite right onstage. Roth is too young, Christian Stolte as studio exec Bobby Gould is too grizzled, and Justine Scarpa as the supposedly vulnerable secretary towers over the two men like an Amazon in heels.

This production conveys well the dramatic angles, the grifts and mind games, but treats Mamet's essentially comic script--which sees traditional morality as a litter-box liner from the get-go--too seriously. Speed-the-Plow is a comedy in the Chekhovian sense: every line of dialogue carries an ironic double meaning. Right is wrong, wrong is right, and having "principles" means not having any at all. Ultimately this staging has the effect of Roman candles: brief bursts of brilliant color alternate with a whole lot of smoke, but there are precious few of the "land mines" that Piven's director's note anticipates.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Mark Weilding.

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