by Lynn on July 17, 2012

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts. Written by David Mamet. Directed by David Storch. Designed by Dana Osborne. Lighting by Kimberly Purtell. Sound by John Gzowski. Starring: Ari Cohen, Jordan Pettle and Sarah Wilson.

Produced by Soulpepper Theatre Company.

The Soulpepper Theatre Company has created a terrific production of a play that is a crock of pretentious self-importance.

Bobby Gould has just been made Head of Production for a film company in Hollywood. He has the right to green light one film a year if it will cost under $30 million. Bobby is slick, confident and sharp. He knows how the place works and he works it well. Charles Fox, Bobby’s success-hungry friend has been following Bobby around in the film business for 11 years in the hopes that he, Charles can make it big too. Charles is edgy, brash, and full of hands-on-hips swagger.

Charles has just come to Bobby with great news. A star from the studio across the street has read a script that Charles found in a file drawer and wants to do the picture for Bobby’s studio. It’s popular fare about a prison story. It will cost over $30 million so Bobby has to go to his boss for the ‘green light’, which they will do the next day.

Both Bobby and Charles are euphoric in anticipation of the wealth and fame they will enjoy as a result of this movie coup. Enter Karen, Bobby’s temporary secretary. Charles bets Bobby $500 that he can’t seduce Karen that day. Bobby takes the bet. Karen it seems wants to be involved in this exciting business. Bobby asks her to do a ‘courtesy-read’ of a thick scholarly, metaphoric-laden book on radiation and the end of the world, and to come to his house later that night to tell him about the book.

After much wine later that night, Karen enthuses about this amazing book. She insists that Bobby make the film of it. It will change the world. It’s about love. It’s important. She is committed to the project. She is fierce in her conviction. Initially all Bobby wanted was to bed her. Now he is warming to the idea of filming the book.

When Bobby tells Charles of his plans to film the arty book and not the popular movie, Charles goes ballistic. A war of wills erupts. Who will win? Art or commerce? Charles notes that no one will go to the arty movie. One wonders therefore, how it will change the world?

This is full of the usual Mamet hallmarks: scattershot, splintered dialogue that tests the actors to keep the rapid-fire pace and make it all seem seamless; questions of greed vs. artistic conviction; integrity vs. moral decay; the survival of the fittest no matter the dirty tricks.

Speed-the-Plow has been called a satire of Hollywood. I think that’s an oxymoron. Hollywood on its own is already a satire. Or a farce.

Speed-the-Plow is the usual Mamet trick of creating a situation, putting fast dialogue with the hint of substance there and suggesting it’s deep. It’s not. We’ve seen it before. Real estate salesmen sell swampland in Florida to unsuspecting customers in Glengarry Glenn Ross. Feminists groups are unfair and evil to unsuspecting hard working teachers in Oleanna. And now Speed-the-Plow.

We are to believe that a woman, written as naïve and witless as Karen is, is deep enough to read a more than 500 page book in a half a day and be familiar enough with it to quote many of the passages to Bobby that make her swoon.

If the film of the book will change the world, then why hasn’t the book? Initially Bobby read passages from the book to Charles and made fun of it because of the dense, incomprehensible writing. Yet Bobby changes his mind about making a film of the book. And we are to believe it’s not because he wants to get Karen in bed. It’s because he’s really had a change of heart. Huh? There’s nothing in the writing to suggest that.

And where is the dilemma? If Bobby can green-light one movie per year if it will cost under $30 million, and anything over $30 million has to be given permission by Bobby’s boss, why can’t both movies be made? Presumably the studio makes more than one movie a year? Logic is never a strong point in a Mamet play.

While I think the play of Speed-the-Plow is just so much pretentious ‘BS’ the Soulpepper production of it is terrific. Director David Storch has directed with a strong, firm hand. He gets muscular, edgy performances from both Ari Cohen as Bobby and Jordan Pettle as Charles. Cohen is smooth, graceful and has the veneer of the head of production. While Pettle is twitchy and full of nervous ticks that work to create a scrappy, pushy performance of a dangerous, hungry-for-success man like Charles.

As Karen, Sarah Wilson is stylish, careful, and imbues her with a conviction that is almost believable. It’s not Wilson’s fault that I don’t believe a word Karen says. Mamet has written her so that we laugh at the character. We don’t believe someone can be that naïve; so out of her depth. He did the same with the character of Carol in Oleanna—she was first cripplingly dim; then capable when her ‘group’ influenced her; then predatory.

What to do? The cast and director create a production that is better than this odious little play deserves, but see it and make up your own minds.

Speed-the-Plow plays at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts until September 22.

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