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Speed-the-Plow

Speed-the-Plow

David Mamet

24 - 31 March 2012

Lyndsey Meer

'Speed-the-Plow' explores the human cost of striving for personal and financial success with humour, irony and much vulgar language.


Performances

Sat 7:45pm, Mon 7:45pm, Tue 7:45pm, Wed 7:45pm, Thu 7:45pm, Fri 7:45pm, Sat 2:45pm, Sat 7:45pm foyer

Synopsis

John Whitley, Mike Truman and Sandy Truman play the three protagonists in this terrific play by the controversial playwright David Mamet.

Like many of Mamet's plays, 'Speed-the-Plow' explores the human cost of striving for personal and financial success with humour, irony and much vulgar language. Within the major theme of 'Art versus Entertainment', it examines such human concepts as friendship, loyalty, morality, betrayal, greed and sexual desire with lively and ironic humour.

Charlie Fox (Mike) comes to his superior Bobby Gould (John) with a deal the two movie men think will make their names and bring them huge fame and fortune. They strut and boast, spar and chivvy, fight, flatter and brag until Karen (Sandy) comes on the scene and divides the men in a way neither of these hard-bitten cynics would ever have foreseen. Karen manages to appeal to a side of Bobby that he almost never knew existed - his desire to be 'good' - and her influence provokes a vicious showdown. In Mamet plays everyone in Hollywood, and the business world in general, wants power and Charlie does his best to show his friend how he has unwittingly walked into a different kind of struggle for control.

This is a play that makes massive demands on professional actors, thereby presenting a huge challenge to amateurs. All three actors have to hold us completely, convince us they mean business. We are fortunate at Lewes to have actors capable of this standard of acting.

John has long had an interest in Mamet and lectured on his plays at university. This play will be his 50th performance at Lewes and many of you will have seen him in some wonderful parts such as Macbeth, Iago, Tartuffe, C.S.Lewis in 'Shadowlands', Joe in 'All My Sons', Oscar in 'The Odd Couple' and Scott in 'Terra Nova'.

Mike is another experienced actor, he teaches drama, recently received brilliant reviews for his performance in 'Blackbird' at the Brighton Festival and has commanded several strong leads at Lewes, including a sinister Schmidt in Joyce Fisher's excellent production of 'The Arsonists'.

Sandy Truman is well known on our stage from such diverse roles as tragic Anna in 'Ivanov' and mad Wendy from 'It Could Be Any One Of Us'. Sandy also teaches drama and examines for Lamda.

Our sparse set and minimalist foyer production pushes the language of this play and the acting skill needed to interpret it right to the front of our attention - where it should be.

Review

David Mamet’s Speed-the-Plow premiered on Broadway in 1988. Nominated for Tony Awards, and a sell out due (partly) to Madonna being cast in the role of Karen, since then it has been performed countless times worldwide including a production at London’s Old Vic in 2008 starring Artistic Director Kevin Spacey, Jeff Goldblum and Laura Michelle Kelly. Mamet’s most famous play for which he received the Pulitzer prize is Glengarry Glen Ross which, like Speed-the-Plow, deals with the world of business and the drive for a buck versus morality. Mamet sets out his stall for this play in the frontispiece for Speed-the-Plow quoting William Makepeace Thackeray:

“Which is the most reasonable, and does his duty best: he who stands aloof from the struggle of life, calmly contemplating it, or he who descends to the ground, and takes his part in the contest?”

The drama of the play hinges on this dilemma faced by the main protagonist Hollywood producer Bobby Gould. Clearly the director Lyndsey Meer and her actors understood, intellectually, the world of the play and the style needed to deliver Mamet’s blistering, playful, visceral language. Mamet’s characters don’t simply converse, they weave and swop fractured, rich, robust tapestries of language. His is an audacious, thrilling and utterly authentic voice which pulses with full blooded humour. Jack Kroll of Newsweek described Speed-the-Plow as “another tone poem by our nation’s foremost master of the language of moral epilepsy”.

What thrilling tour de force roles these are for actors. John Whitley played the newly promoted Hollywood producer Bobby Gould. He has a good ear for, and clearly relishes, the rhythm of the writing and carried his scenes with warmth, detail and gusto. Mike Truman, as the junior partner Charlie Fox whose hands are probably too sweaty to be able to negotiate the greasy pole he longs to climb, captured the desperation and pathos of the last chance saloon. Sandy Truman as the initially seemingly naïve temp secretary Karen was assured with her passion and ruthlessness. Mamet has been criticised for writing his female characters as secondary, however it struck me that Karen appears in the midst of the male madness as a kind of Mary Magdalen figure, acting as the catalyst to drive the plot to its conclusion.

As in all well-structured dramatic pieces the main protagonist, in this case Bobby Gould, goes on a journey. In order to achieve the required shifts in character, the first half of the play needs to be played with a harder edge. In the scene in which Bobby invites Karen to his house, ostensibly to bed her but ending up enthralled by her seeming purity and passion for good, sexual tension needs to underscore the action. Then, the push and pull between the character’s wants would be clear and strong and the underlining humour would also flow more easily.

Although Speed-the-Plow could be seen as a universal fable, it is rooted entirely in the maelstrom of commerce which is the US of A. Language, style and location could not be more instrinsically American. Mamet’s plays are wordscapes, and the foundation of the dialogue, the engine of the play and the believability of the characters are carried on the engine of the accents. It was a shame that the lack of hold on this aspect of the production hampered the actors on occasion.
However, Mamet’s work with all its intricacy of subtext and stunning verbal pyrotechnics is a task not to be taken on too lightly and director Lyndsey Meer was brave and committed in tackling it. I enjoyed being able to see this play at LLT in the ‘studio’ space created in the foyer. The house was full and although the robust language might have been a bit uncomfortable for some it was clear that they appreciated the hard work and commitment shown by the cast and director.

While writing this review I found these two comments from David Mamet speaking about his play which seem, initially, to contradict each other.

‘But what about High Art? I, personally, don’t think it is the lookout of drama. I believe that the business of America is business, and the aim of drama is to put tushies in the seats; and that the best way to do that is to write a ripping yarn, with a bunch of sex, some nifty plot twists and a lot of snappy dialogue. If you are looking for such, I suggest Speed-the-Plow’.

‘I remembered the saying that you see on a lot of old plates and mugs ‘Industry produces wealth, God Speed-the-Plow.’ This, I knew, was a play about work and about the end of the world, so Speed-the-Plow was perfect because not only did it mean work, it meant having to plow under and start over again.’

In fact, Speed-the-Plow is about the tension between these two themes conveyed by thrilling language, clever but clear plot, humour and great characters. I was excited to see the play and will be looking up my Mamet collection for some more red blooded word and thought food.

Lucie Fitchett