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Speed the Plow

Also see Sharon's review of Feed

Alicia Silverstone, Jon Tenney
and Greg Germann

Speed-The-Plow is not a very complex play. It is comprised of three scenes - the final one is separated from the first two by an unnecessary intermission. The first scene introduces us to Bobby Gould, a recently promoted movie studio executive who has the approval to green-light a movie costing under $40 million on his own say-so. Casually dressed, Jon Tenney's Gould is unconcerned about making an impression, as he is the one people should be seeking to impress. Confident in his power, self-assured in his knowledge of how to succeed in this "people business," Gould is a mover and shaker who makes no apologies for being out for himself.

He is approached by his friend Charlie Fox, who was left behind when Gould was promoted. Fox is wearing a suit - he's still trying to climb uphill. Greg Germann plays Fox as a man who is completely aware of the game he has to play to get ahead, and is always able to quickly change gears if his first approach isn't getting him the results he wants. And in the first scene of Speed-The-Plow, it's pretty easy for him to get those results. Fox has a commitment from a popular movie star to shoot a script he's found, and he's brought the project to Gould. While Gould can't approve the expensive blockbuster himself, he knows it's going to be box office gold ("Action! Blood! A social theme!") and can't wait to pitch it to his boss. Fox will get a co-producer credit with Gould, and the two of them will make heaps of money. It's guaranteed. But Gould's boss can't meet with him until the following morning. There's nothing the friends can do but count their future millions and wait. And place a $500 wager on whether Gould can score with his pretty new secretary that night.

Karen is a temporary secretary and clearly incompetent. She knows nothing about being a secretary and even less about the motion picture business. But she is pretty, and when she expresses interest in Gould's responsibility to give a book a "courtesy read" (before rejecting it as a movie), Gould smoothly suggests that Karen read the book and give him a report on it that night. At his place.

The second scene of the play occurs that night, when Karen excitedly reports on the book to Gould. (She's wearing jeans and has removed her shoes; why she is wearing hose beneath is inexplicable.) The book is some sort of pseudo-religious-scientific-psychobabble novel, and Karen has been transformed by it. Alicia Silverstone's eyes sparkle as her voice goes breathy in Karen's eagerness to explain how absolutely wonderful this book is. Karen wants Gould to read this book and have the consciousness-altering experience that she had. And she thinks Gould should make this movie, instead of the blockbuster action flick that Fox brought him.

At one point in this scene, Karen pauses in her girlish praise for the book to ask Gould to pour her another drink, and the audience momentarily questions whether Karen is as innocent as she seems or if she's trying to manipulate Gould herself. Exactly what is going on in Karen's head is a key point on which Speed-The-Plow ultimately turns, and Silverstone's sweet schoolgirl approach to Karen does not give her the ambiguity the character really needs.

The third scene is driven by the conflict over which film Gould should make. The problem is, there's something inherently false about it. Gould can make both pictures. David Mamet's script does not, in any way, give a reason for why Gould can't pitch the box office hit to his boss, and then pitch the smaller film as an art house project. Heck, he can pitch Fox's movie and then make the book into a film as his own under-$40 million project. The play sets this up as an either/or dichotomy, when and is the obvious solution.

It may be that Mamet intended for reading the book to be such a profound experience that it makes one detest the very concept of making mere popular entertainment anymore. If so, Randall Arney's direction does not suggest it. The result is that the Geffen Playhouse's production of Speed-The-Plow is just a brief diversion - a humorous peek into the way movies get made, but not any sort of scathing look at the human costs of the film industry.

Speed-The-Plow continues at the Geffen Playhouse through March 25, 2007. For tickets and information, see

The Geffen Playhouse - Gilbert Cates, Producing Director; Randall Arney, Artistic Director; Stephen Eich, Managing Director - presents Speed-The-Plow by David Mamet. Scenic and Costume Design Robert Blackman; Lighting Designed by Daniel Ionazzi; Production Stage Manager Michelle Magaldi; Assistant Stage Manager Dana Victoria Anderson; Dramaturg Amy Levinson-Millan; Casting by Phyllis Schuringa; Directed by Randall Arney.

Jon Tenney - Bobby Gould
Greg Germann - Charlie Fox
Alicia Silverstone - Karen

Photo: Michael Lamont

- Sharon Perlmutter

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