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Geffen Playhouse, Westwood
Through March 25
Fueled by David Mamet’s infernal dialogue machine and by a spectacular tour de force from Alicia Silverstone (in the role created by Madonna on Broadway in 1988), the 100 fast-paced minutes of “Speed-the-Plow” have the audience snickering and roaring as Mamet pillories the pretensions and manipulations of Hollywood middle managerial types.
That Mamet’s farce lacks the slap-in-your-face force it might once have had is, of course, in part thanks to Mamet for his widely breeding, in this and subsequent work, a unique brand of contempt for such soulless types as Charlie Fox (Greg Germann) and Bobby Gould (Jon Tenney). Also, the lack of impact might stem from a certain predictability as well as a too convenient momentum-shifting linchpin.
The language is pure Mamet, heavily rhythmical with what have come to be accepted as street-smart accents, littered with machine gun repetition and alternating streams of overlapping interruptions and blank stares. His language becoming a known commodity, of course, carries with it a further wonderful touch of unreality: that the characters in a Mamet play have apparently never seen a Mamet play.
The play is structured A-B-A, the two outer scenes taking place in the office of the new head of production Gould as he and underling Fox prepare to pitch a can’t-miss sex-and-violence ex-ploitation flick to the studio boss. The middle scene takes place in Gould’s home, to which he has lured beautiful temp secretary Karen (Silverstone) by asking her to give him coverage on a popular (among East Coast intellectuals) book prophesying the end of the world.
To Gould’s surprise, Karen has become taken by the book and erupts in a series of increasingly intoxicated soliloquies on why Gould should make it into a movie for “good.” In the process, Silverstone finds unexpected dimensions in Mamet’s flat language as she amplifies and explicates, pouts and whines, in an extraordinary, uninhibited and totally adorable exhibition of verbal foreplay.
Silverstone also stands out brilliantly in part because her function in the play is one-dimensional, whereas the roles of Fox and Gould in their more unstable reality are relatively complex. As a result, Gould, who realizes that Karen is indeed a serious threat to his well being, and Fox, who while knowing that he cannot entirely dismiss practical considerations would kind of like to try, have to resolve the issue of which movie to make.
Germann does so with a manic, spastic spin that never lets up, gripped by hysteria at the least suggestion that there are other realities besides his. At the other end of the emotional spectrum, Tenney pushes the vacuous state of Gould’s mind to the edge of an abyss of nonexistence, challenging the others to engage, instinctively knowing how much they depend on him.
Running through March 25, the production has time for Germann and Tenney to further tweak their performances within the solid framework provided by director Randall Arney for Mamet’s unbounded size and energy. But there is no denying that Silverstone’s performance alone makes going to the play not only worthwhile but, for Hollywood types, essential.
Presented by Geffen Playhouse
Playwright: David Mamet
Director: Randall Arney
Set/costume designer: Robert Blackman
Lighting designer: Daniel Ionazzi
Production stage manager: Michelle Magaldi
Assistant stage manager: Dana Victoria Anderson
Dramaturg: Amy Levinson Millan
Casting: Phyllis Schuringa
Charlie Fox: Greg Germann
Karen: Alicia Silverstone
Bobby Gould: Jon Tenney
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