“I wouldn’t believe that bullshit even if it was true!”
The RZ’s affinity for David Mamet isn’t exactly a secret, so it should be of no surprise that he greatly enjoyed the Old Vic’s new production of Mamet’s 1988 classic Speed-the-Plow and its uniquely American sensibilities.
It is these sensibilities, summed up beautifully by another American David, David Ives, which encompass Mamet’s first decade (and change) of playwriting: keep it short, make it fast, and curse like a true red blooded American man. Plow fits the first and last criteria to a T, but is weighed down by an odd middle scene which feels leaden compared to the rocket engine first and third scenes.
A bit of explanation now for those not so versed in Mamet-ology. Speed-the-Plow is the story of Charles Fox (Kevin Spacey), a film producer who’s never received the credit due his loyalty and Bobby Gould (Jeff Goldblum), his recently promoted friend, and colleague. When Fox lands his opportunity to make a star studded action blockbuster, he bursts into Gould’s office, makes his pitch, and the two look to have a hit on their hands. Unfortunately, the film needs to be greenlit by studio head Ross who is gone for the day. After meeting Gould’s temporary secretary Karen (Laura Michelle Kelly), the two make a bet over whether or not Gould can sleep with her. Under the guise of a work assignment, Gould orders Karen to read a philosophical novel on post-apocalyptic radiation survivors and report to him on it that night.
The leaden scene is this report, where Karen acts like a 60’s reject by quoting peace and love and the merits of the book’s philosophy. After fifteen minutes, Gould begins to break down, coming forward with the truth, but Karen doesn’t care. She sees this as Gould’s chance to do the good he claims he wants to do and continues to pressure him towards making a film of the radiation book vs. Fox’s action flick. When the scene finally ends and we return to Gould’s office, his mind is changed and tempers flare as Fox returns for their now cancelled meeting with the studio head.
Mamet wrote this play after a number of projects in Hollywood, including the film adaptation of his prior play Sexual Perversity in Chicago, where he was fired as screenwriter of the adaptation. While Mamet claims Plow is not anti-Hollywood, his resentment is present as Fox and Gould stay focused on the bottom line and a bums on seats approach rivalled only by his contemporaries in the commercial theatre. The question of a moral obligation to educate, heal, or spiritually engage with an audience rather than providing empty entertainment is one all theatre producers(especially in the commercial sector) fight with on a regular basis as well as film studios looking to balance high risk (and cost) projects. As Gould says, “We’re looking to make what we did last year because we know people will come.”
That said, putting bums on seats is certainly a worthwhile goal if done well and for good reason, and Kevin Spacey has done it again at the Old Vic. His Fox is an anxiety attack waiting to happen as he bounces off the walls with anticipation over his 15 minutes of producing fame and the money his one chance can bring in. When his hopes are dashed in the third scene, the scale of his breakdown is terrifying as he reaches for his final chance in a similar manner to Shelly Levene in Glengarry Glenn Ross. Jeff Goldblum’s Gould is a racecar, changing gears from a calm beginning but ramping it up as the two engage in a verbal jack-off, building towards a climax of agreement and a shared goal. Laura Michelle Kelly does what she can as the typical Mamet female who fucks (and fucks up) the men, but the character is annoying.
In the end, we have a biting look at the entertainment industry, fronted by two of its most recognisable members undoubtedly appreciating the irony and loving every minute of it - and so should the audiences. The run is sold out, but returns are available most evenings.
Where: Old Vic
When: M-Sa @ 19:30, Sa @ 14:30
How Much: £10-£47.50
Concessions: Under 25’s can enter a lottery for £12 restricted view seats. Seniors can get best available Mondays and matinees for £20. Locals can get bench seats some nights for £5.
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £47.50 despite issues with the middle scene for a star studded and in your face performance that lets you get home at a decent hour.
RZ Other Notes: Choosing the opening quote was a tough one, with “I believe in the yellow pages but I wouldn’t make a film about it!”, “Life in the movie business is like the beginning of a new love affair: it’s full of surprises and you’re constantly getting fucked.” and “And whose names will be above the title?” “Fox and Gould!” “Damn straight!” being equal contenders.