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"Speed The Plow" At New Jewish Theatre Not So Shocking, But Leaves Plenty For Discussion

(Courtesy of John Lamb)

In 1988 David Mamet’s Speed the Plow opened on Broadway with its skewering, shocking truths about how films get made in Hollywood. In 2013, no one is unaware of how Hollywood makes the blockbusters or the stars.  (If a studio pays enough papers to say a movie or a star is “the next big thing” eventually the average person thinks it’s true.) No longer shocking, but with plenty of meat for discussion, Speed the Plow opened this weekend at the New Jewish Theatre.

Two scripts, one common and violent and sure to please a large audience  (and make plenty of money) and one intellectual, although pretentious as hell to my mind, full of end of the world themes, God and embracing our fears. Charlie Fox wants to do the first, Karen, the second. Bobby Gould holds the power to green light a project, but which one will he choose?

It’s a small cast, Christopher Hickey plays Bobby Gould, Michael James Reed is Charlie Fox, and Sigrid Sutter is Karen. I love watching Chris Hickey play against type. He has such a sweet, boyish face and softness about him, he seems such a mensch. I find the juxtaposition when he plays a real jerk to be very interesting and I found it true in his Bobby Gould. Hickey’s Bobby is at times cocky, at times confused, wanting to be successful, but not wanting to actively promote garbage, yet knowing that he does. Hickey finds some nice layers in Bobby’s craziness.  Reed is also well cast as Charlie Fox, balding and sweaty, he is a middle-aged man desperate to be on top, frantic to parlay his friendship with Bobby into wealth.

I had a problem with the pacing. Mamet requires rapid-fire, overlapping, repetitive dialogue, especially true in the first scene. I understand that an older audience with hearing issues, would have trouble understanding dialogue delivered in that fashion, but it left the beginning flat and wooden.

My other quibble is with the character of Karen. Usually a sexy, manipulative woman, testing the power of her sexuality, but putting on a veneer of purity, plays the part.  Sutter is about as farm girl wholesome as one could find and director Tim Ocel has Sutter playing Karen’s purity and none of the manipulation. She stresses “God” and “fear” and asks Bobby what he is afraid of. Then, in a moment full of submission rather than sexual overture, she offers herself, like Jesus on the cross, a sacrifice to the Hollywood gods.

But here’s where the meat is still tasty in this play. Why do we continue to prefer the same old, violent films, over and over again? Die Hard - Die Harder – Die Still Harder  - Really, Die Already. (OK, I made up the last two, but only barely.) We complain that nothing new ever comes out of Hollywood, but apparently, that’s because no one would go see it!

The question I hope everyone leaves discussing is this. If Karen had been manipulating Bobby, she would have been living up to the code of Hollywood and you would think the boys would acknowledge that she could play their game. They revel in calling themselves “old whores” but can’t abide the real thing. Many people call Mamet sexist; I say he’s a misogynistic pig.

I thought this an odd play for the New Jewish Theatre to do, there isn’t anything overtly Jewish about it, except the playwright, and it’s often vulgar, mild compared to, say, Glengarry Glen Ross or Sexual Perversity in Chicago, but I saw shock and squirming in the audience. Be warned.

Speed the Plow continues at the Marvin & Harlene Wool Theater through February 24th.