Ari Cohen and Jordan Pettle. Photos by Cylla von TiedemannReviewed by James Karas
David Mamet is the master of machine-gun dialogue, short sentences shot out, frequently overlapping with the words of the last speaker and creating riveting theatre. This talent was displayed to good effect in his 1988 play Speed-the-Plow which is now showing at the Young Centre in a superb production by Soulpepper.
At times you get the impression that Mamet’s characters have tongues without brakes and minds without steering wheels. They say what they want to say with little regard the listener.
The play has only three characters and is a dark satire on the movie industry but Mamet is not interested only in the shallowness and vacuity of films being made and the equally shallow, ego-driven would-be moguls. He has written a subtle play about manipulation, power struggle, office politics and the interplay of greed, sex, treachery and hypocrisy.
Charlie Fox (Jordan Pettle) runs into the office of Bobby Gould (Ari Cohen) to announce that he has nabbed someone “from across the street” to do a movie for their studio. The dialogue develops around the conviction that they will make lots of money and get their names on the screen above the title of the film. They are loyal friends, they insist repeatedly, but what is really obvious is their geed, shallowness and hypocrisy.
Pettle plays Fox as an over-excited, promoter and self-promoter on the verge of success. Cohen’s Gould wants to pretend he is near the top already (he can make a movie for under thirty million dollars without any approval) but he is just as vacuous and superficial as Fox.
The anticipated success is muddled by the presence of a tall and beautiful temp worker named Karen (Sarah Wilson). She appears innocent and eager to please but the men are obviously interested in more earthy things. Gould invites her to his house and the two men make a bet on whether he will have sex with her. It is a pure game of manipulation and one-upmanship and if Gould does have sex with her the victory will be his. In their world the only thing that counts is their ego. Karen shows that she knows a few things about manipulation herself and she can stand her ground quite well.
The seesaw conflict among the three lasts for about an hour and twenty minutes but it is riveting theatre. The acting is superb. The play can be done even more quickly and forcefully but director David Storch has chosen a less violent approach to the pacing and the dialogue. A more forceful approach may have been preferable but that may be a matter of taste.
The set by Dana Osborne consists of a simple and very ordinary desk for Gould’s office – he is a powerhouse producer only in his imagination - and ordinary furniture for his apartment. He could be an office worker on a tight budget.
Speed-the-Plow is not produced very frequently and once again one expresses gratitude to Soulpepper for its judicious choice of plays and its frequently outstanding productions.
Speed-the-Plow by David Mamet opened on July 16 12 and will continue until September 22, 2012 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Mill Street, Toronto, Ontario. www.soulpepper.ca 416 866-8666.