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So let’s not bury the lede: Lindsay Lohan‘s performance on press night as Karen in director Lindsay Posner‘s new London production of David Mamet‘s Speed-the-Plow was okay. It wasn’t a car crash, but then neither was it likely to win her an Olivier Award, London’s equivalent of a Tony.
During Act II, the bit where her character, Karen, delivers several key long monologues, Lohan needed only one prompt from offstage, and didn’t break character. Apparently, that was an improvement on her performance in previews judging by the ghoulish press reports and tweets last week documenting every flub. Although she seemed sometimes to be rushing the lines and failed to make the material sing, overall she demonstrated presence. However, none of that changes the fact that this is a tepid, underwhelming production in which Lohan is just one of several mediocre elements.
For starters, Speed-the-Plow is not one of playwright Mamet’s better works. It pivots around whether newly appointed studio head of production Bobby Gould (played here by Richard Schiff) will throw his weight behind a cookie-cutter buddy movie with a big star brought to him by long-time associate Charlie Fox (Nigel Lindsay), or be persuaded to back an adaptation of a literary novel championed by his secretary Karen.
First performed in 1988, this bitter screed against the philistinism of the film industry is showing its age now with talk of $10 million movies (it’s been a long time since major studios made anything in that budget range) and debates around profit versus art, crudely played out in the power struggle between the three characters. Moreover, as is often the case with Mamet, there’s an uncomfortable blurriness around whether the misogyny expressed by the characters is meant to criticize misogyny itself or be a straight-up reflection of the author’s own issues with women.
As with any Mamet play, the text needs actors who can make his very musical, percussive dialogue crackle as it should in order to unleash the full, abrasive force required. The male leads struggle with the timing of these verbal volleys. Lindsay at least has the right comic chops to wring laughs with the better one-liners, like the comparison between the film business and love affairs (they’re both “full of surprises and you’re always getting f—ed”). But the actor’s eruption into violence in the home stretch feels forced.
Schiff is an even weaker link, perhaps because his slight frame and schlubby presentation fail to persuade that he’s a coming man in a cutthroat industry. It doesn’t help that his average-Joe looks and dialed-down charisma make it more obvious that bombshell Karen’s playing him when she offers to sleep with him to cement their alliance. And there is precisely zero sexual chemistry between Schiff and Lohan in the mid-play seduction scene.
This review started by saying that Lohan’s performance is okay, but that rather depends on which yardstick she’s being judged by. Viewers who caught Elisabeth Moss in the role in the 2008 Broadway revival are likely to think this is the lesser effort, although it’s a fair bet those lucky souls who saw Madonna in the premiere run might say LiLo is an improvement. (Having seen neither of those productions, I confess I’m only guessing.)
Like many another screen actor taking to the stage for the first time, Lohan seems unsure about how to make the transition to the different medium. While she was competently audible throughout (a feat not always achieved by others) she clearly hasn’t learned how to hone her voice and delivery to bring the lines fully to life. That’s especially palpable in that key scene where she has to persuade us that there’s something ineffably compelling and poetic about the book she’s pitching to Bobby. Instead, it just sounds like a lot of pretentious waffle about radiation.
Maybe the problem lies in Mamet’s text itself. But the end effect is to suggest that Charlie is probably right: the stupid buddy movie with the big star probably would make the better picture.
Cast: Richard Schiff, Nigel Lindsay, Lindsay Lohan
Director: Lindsay Posner
Playwright: David Mamet
Set and costume designer: Robert Innes Hopkins
Lighting designer: Paul Anderson
Presented by Danny Moar and Simon Friend for Theatre Royal Bath Productions
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