At Studio 16 until November 29, 2014
Posted November 21, 2014
Hold your breath. Everyone else is holding his or her breath as we wait to see if Karen (Kayla Deorksen) will tell the truth or not. It’s not so much a case of, “Did she or didn’t she?” but more like, “Would she or wouldn’t she?” have had sex with Bobby Gould if he didn’t give the greenlight to the film she’s promoting. How she answers could make Bobby (Craig Erickson) and Charlie Fox (Aaron Craven) do a one-eighty.
Mitch and Murray Productions fires off another scorcher with this David Mamet play. Director David Mackay has an instinct – almost as predatory as Mamet’s characters – for character-driven plays that pose moral/ethical questions in contemporary urban settings. Everything the company has produced to date (notably Race, Lungs and Becky Shaw) has been thought-provoking, edgy, razor sharp, caustically funny and entertaining in a through-the-wringer sort of way. Mitch and Murray Productions doesn’t mess around.
With jolly Christmas music just beginning to seep into coffee bars and stores, this play yanks us back to reality with gutter language, clashing male egos and sex-for-services-rendered. If you want to bathe in a kinder, nicer place, Mary Poppins (Arts Club) and It’s a Wonderful Life (Pacific Theatre) open soon.
The title, Speed-the-Plow, comes from “Industry produces wealth; God speed the plow” emblazoned on a piece of crockery that Mamet chanced upon. The industry in this particular play is the Hollywood film industry but God does not appear to have anything to do with it unless you count the demon god, Mammon. It’s all about money; no one, least of all Bobby who vets scripts for someone in a bigger, fancier office, wants to make a movie that flops. So don’t do anything arty, anything significant or relevant.
Director Mackay has found himself a formula for success: it’s called Craig Erickson, Aaron Craven and Kayla Deorksen. Erickson and Craven have mastered the Mamet-style dialogue: rapid-fire, lines-over-top-of-lines, words smashing into each other in a strangely musical way: more Stravinsky, less Strauss.
As Bobby, Erickson is reptilian and as oily as Kinder Morgan with a smile that hides god-knows-what machinations and backroom deals he’s making. His body language is pugilistic, solid and always on the offensive as he spars – verbally – with Charlie. Erickson, amazingly, wrings out a little shred of pity for Bobby, something I’ve never experienced before in the three previous times I’ve seen this play. It’s something director Mackay writes about in his program notes; he aims to make these characters “relatable and identifiable people”. And he does. Karen touches a nerve when she tells Bobby he wants to be loved, he wants to be good. Somewhere, a long time ago, that’s what Bobby wanted. Does he still?
Craven is right on as Charlie in this ass-kissing but eventually ass-kicking role. Craven falls all over himself when Charlie talks about loyalty and he’s giddily boyish in Charlie’s enthusiasm over having landed a box office star for the next film. Although we know Charlie is seeing dollar signs, can he be faulted for that after putting in years without hitting the bigtime. Here’s his big chance. Who wouldn’t want to grab it? He’s only human. Sort of.
For me, Karen is the most interesting character in the play despite the fact that Mamet doesn’t even give her a last name. We know what Charlie and Bobby want. We don’t know until almost curtain what she wants. Deorksen plays Karen’s cards very close to her chest and keeps us guessing. At the beginning she plays Karen as smilingly naïve but by the end of the play we can’t really be certain. What does Karen know and when did she know it?
Speed-the-Plow is a dynamite script with a dynamite director and cast. See it now. See Mary Poppins and It’s A Wonderful Life later.