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Margaret Croyden

Speed the Plow

The Ethel Barrymore Theatre
243 West 47th Street (Between Broadway and 8th Avenue)
New York NY 10036
90 minutes with no intermission.
Closes on February 22, 2009 / Opened on October 23, 2008
Ticket Price: $49.50-$116.50
Cast members : William H Macy, Raul Esparza, Elisabeth Moss

Reviewed by Margaret Croyder February 18, 2009

L-R: Raul Esparza and William H Macy. Photo by Robert J. Saferstein

Well, here we have another David Mamet play. This one at least is still on, unlike Mamet's short lived "American Buffalo." But sad to say, "Speed-The-Plow," running at the Barrymore Theater, is no better than "Buffalo." Mamet is still ranting about the evils of American business, only this time the action is Hollywood and what better place for ripping the system apart than hypocritical, conniving, unscrupulous Hollywood--with its producers, would-be producers, secretaries, and the whole lot. The play consists of only three characters, who are three scoundrels each in his (or her) own way. For just 85 minutes (no intermission), there is an abundance of fast speaking and audacious dialogue typical of a Mamet play. Yes, Mamet is quite remarkable in his ability to manipulate the language and, as Neil Pepe staged it, the words are so fast and furious it is sometimes difficult to know what's going on. Not that it matters. Plot is not Mamet's forte. Dialogue is.

William H Macy and Elizabeth Moss in "Speed the Plow". Photo by Robert J. Saferstein.

The threesome are a would-be talented vacillating director, his buddy, a fast talking encourager who, it seems, could kill for success; and a nice, sexy sort of faux intellectual secretary with a calculation as big as her so called good intentions. But nothing really happens. It seems the two men are on the verge of a huge deal and we are supposed to sit open-mouthed wondering if it's a deal or no deal. Well, the suspense is hardly killing because the characters are people we don't care about, at least I don't care about. Besides we know all about the dirt and nastiness of that famous Hollywood hellhole, how pictures are made, how people get laid, how deals are made and betrayed and how it all ends up with the winner who is the most nasty, the most conniving, the most unprincipled.

Rather than give the plot away, if there is a plot, let me say that what is fascinating about the play (at least for five minutes) is the actor Raul Esparza, whose portrayal of a nasty, overly ambitious, unfaithful friend is remarkable. His fast pace, his terrific body language, his movements are unique. In fact, it is one of the most worked out performances I have seen this season. He knows how to use his body (not very typical of Broadway actors)--no standing around for Esparza, no sitting down either. He moves like a fast truck or an experienced dancer who has complete control of the body, who is able to synchronize his movements with his timing, coupled with extraordinary gestures. And all of it fits together--a remarkable theatrical performance. He is the one reason to see the play.

Unfortunately the talented, well known, and well experienced William Macy is a bit of a disappointment. As the ambivalent producer who tries to play it straight (or in this case noble), he is unbelievable--a surprise for an actor as experienced and as talented as Mr. Macy. Maybe it's the playwright's fault. This character is too soft minded to have gotten into the position he finds himself in the first place, so that his nobility at the end is unbelievable. In effect, Macy sort of fades out and is overtaken by Esparza's brilliance. A pity.

Elizabeth Moss, whose character is just as unscrupulous as the guys, but who cleverly conceals it under phony pretentious, intellectualism, also fades when Esparza is on stage.

As for the play itself, it is the usual Mamet guys-- thugs, crooks, manipulators --a bit tiresome already. Nothing is memorable except Raul Esparza.

Margaret Croyden's latest book is "Conversations with Peter Brook, 1970-2000" (Fairer, Straus and Giroux).

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