— Whitehorse Theatre Ensemble’s production of Speed the Plow.
SPEED THE PLOW
Speed the Plow is one of David Mamet’s nastiest, funniest and best plays. This production, bringing together actors from Whitehorse with a Vancouver director and designer, taps Mamet’s rhythms and gets inside his cynical worldview in very satisfying ways. You wouldn’t want to know these people (Mamet’s characters, I mean) but it’s fun feeling superior to them as they delude each other and themselves.
Like American Buffalo and Glengarry Glen Ross, Speed the Plow is largely about the faux bonding and real struggles for power that take place within a highly competitive masculine culture ruled by a warped notion of “business.” Here we’re inside the world of Hollywood movie-making, where studio bosses and executive producers are Masters of the Dream-Universe, where getting their name into the credits of a moronic “buddy movie” with some cretinous action hero actor can make them obnoxiously powerful and obscenely rich. Bobby Gould (Aaron Nelken) has just been promoted to second-in-command of the studio, and his long-time toady, producer Charlie Fox (Eric Epstein), has brought him a project that should make them both the envy of Hollywood: a Dougy Brown picture, a prison movie, a buddy film.
Mamet doesn’t bother to provide the audience with any information about who Doug Brown might be or what the movie might specifically be about. The irrelevance of those things is part of the fun. It will be a formula film, a commodity, a means of putting asses in seats and selling popcorn—and because of its star, a sure money-maker. Gould and Fox agree entirely on that, just as they agree, initially, on the absurdity of making a movie out of a novel about radiation by some highbrow “sissy eastern writer.”
The fly in their ointment is a woman, Karen the temp secretary (Jessica Hickman), who manages for a time to shift the power and change someone’s mind about the Dougy Brown picture and the radiation novel. It would be cruel, for those of you who don’t know the play, to give away any more of the plot. Suffice to say that Karen’s motives remain somewhat ambiguous at the end and Bobby Gould’s temporary transformation doesn’t seem entirely credible. But the consequences will leave you laughing and shaking your head.
Aaron Nelken is excellent as the alpha-male Gould; and although he starts a little slowly, Eric Epstein steals the second act when Fox is forced to improvise desperately to save his project. They are very funny together in their manic, self-congratulatory construction of what their movie might be about (“a prison picture ... black guys ... bla bla bla”) and in their argument in the final scene. Wait for Fox to echo Gould’s line, “To do something which is right.” Turning it into a question, he makes it sound like the ultimate act of insanity. It’s classic Mamet. Jessica Hickman is terrific as Karen, the woman who comes between the guys just for a while.
Sarah Rodgers directs with a great sense of rhythm, pushing the pace then taking the pauses so that it works, like all Mamet’s best plays, like a piece of music. McAllister’s simple, handsome set sits nicely on the small Presentation House stage.