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On Stage: 'Speed the Plow': What is the sound of one hand grabbing?

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 15, 2013 - "Speed-the-Plow," presented by New Jewish Theatre, has nothing to do with old-school farming, in case you didn’t know.

What playwright David Mamet is cultivating is a culture of corruption, as is his wont, in numerous other scripts including “Glengarry Glen Ross” and “Race.” This time, in New Jewish's first foray into Mamet territory, it’s within the movie business.

Under the direction of Tim Ocel, actors Christopher Hickey as Mamet’s ubiquitous Bobby Gould, Michael James Reed as Charlie Fox and Sigrid Sutter as Karen wrestle with opportunities -- and sometimes, literally, each other.

The gist:

That temp receptionist Karen has no last name is in keeping with the men’s misogyny: Initially, they dismiss her as just “a new broad.” But she turns out to be a molotov cocktail that fate throws into the formerly symbiotic relationship between newly promoted production head Bobby and his old associate, movie producer Charlie.

Bobby enthusiastically decides to green-light a sure-fire-success prison movie that Charlie brings to him, rather than to another studio, out of his stated loyalty. They both know the script is unoriginal, but as Charlie notes, they’re in the business to “make the thing everyone made last year.”

It’s Charlie’s big break, finally, his chance to get rich. The pair will meet with a top studio gun the next morning, barely within the small window Charlie’s been given by the movie’s star.

Both men acknowledge they are a couple of “whores” in the business, but, hey, what’s wrong with that? Meanwhile, they make a $500 bet about Bobby getting Karen in bed. To that end, Bobby gives Karen a script whose radiation-and-end-of-the-world premise he’s already panned, asking her to give it what’s known in the biz as a “courtesy read” and report back to him that night.

(Spoiler alert!) But when Karen goes to Bobby’s, she gives him more than a report and more than sex. Before breakfast, she’s scrambled his brain about what’s movie-worthy.

When Bobby and Charlie meet again in the morning, Reed’s Charlie convincingly becomes a spitting, sweating, angry mess, and Mamet’s signature “F” word flies with the fluids. Wiping his brow and leaking all over the stage, Charlie demands to know, “What is she -- a witch?”

In the end, Charlie’s the one who brews up the perfect question that will strip away the magic, costing Bobby some of his swagger but re-establishing the men’s shared footing.

Oh, and what about that plow? It’s a reference from a 14th-century poem that gave rise to the proverb, “Industry produces wealth, God speed the plow.”

The details:

JCC’s Staenberg Family Complex, 2 Millstone Campus Dr., 63146
When: Wednesday-Thursday, Saturday-Sunday, through Feb. 24
How much: $35-$39
Tickets: New Jewish Theatre online box office
Information: New Jewish Theatre website

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.