Theater Reviews

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Ethel Barrymore Theatre, New York (Through Feb. 22)

Watching Jeremy Piven as a rapacious Hollywood type and Elisabeth Moss as an awkward but ambitious secretary, it's easy to imagine that you're flipping channels between HBO's "Entourage" and AMC's "Mad Men." Instead, it's the new Broadway production of David Mamet's 1988 comedy "Speed-the-Plow," which, in this cannily cast revival, proves more timely and sharp than ever.

Theater veteran Raul Esparza ("Company") plays the third character in this acerbic miniaturist portrait of Hollywood gamesmanship, which does for the movie industry what Mamet's classic "Glengarry Glen Ross" did for real estate.

The play depicts the collision between old friends Bobby Gould (Piven), a newly appointed head of production at a Hollywood studio; Charlie Fox (Esparza), an ambitious producer looking for a green light on a prison movie with a big-name action star attached; and Karen (Moss), Gould's new secretary who apparently is so naive she doesn't know how to use his name to get a lunch reservation.

This being Mamet, both sexual and professional competition are in the mix, with the two men making a wager as to whether Gould can get Karen into bed by day's end. To make it happen, he assigns her the task of delivering a report to him that evening about a pretentious, apocalyptic-themed novel that he has promised to give a courtesy read.

What ensues turns the men's relationship on its head, with the suddenly spurned Fox viciously vying with Karen for Gould's loyalty.

Although the play never quite convinces in terms of its situations and characterizations, Mamet's razor-sharp comic dialogue makes its 90 minutes breeze by. And his observations about the movie business -- in which the credo is, "Make the thing that everybody made last year" -- are even more relevant today than when it was written.

Anyone who saw the superb original production starring Joe Mantegna, Ron Silver and Madonna might be slightly disappointed by this rendition directed by Neil Pepe. Piven, perhaps conscious of not wanting to repeat his hyperactive persona from "Entourage," is a little too subdued, and Moss, though perfectly fine, naturally doesn't bring the resonance that her famous predecessor did to the role of a sneakily ambitious woman not above exploiting her sensuality.

Fortunately, Esparza picks up the slack, delivering a furiously fast and funny performance that provides Mamet's hilariously profane dialogue its full impact.

Cast: Jeremy Piven, Raul Esparza, Elisabeth Moss. Playwright: David Mamet. Director: Neil Pepe.
Scenic design: Scott Pask
Costume design: Laura Bauer
Lighting design: Brian MacDevitt
Presented by Jeffrey Richards, Jerry Frankel, Jam Theatricals, JK Prods., Ronald Frankel, Ostar Prods., Peggy Hill, Bat-Barry Prods., Ken Davenport, Scott Delman, Ergo Entertainment, Dede Harris, Alan D. Marks, Patty Ann McKinnon, Nicholas Quinn Rosenkranz, Adam Sansiveri and Jamie deRoy/Carl Moellenberg

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