Theater Review: Speed-the-Plow

The term "emergency bailout" isn't often applied to the theater, but it well describes the arrival of William H. Macy in the current Broadway revival of David Mamet's scathing Hollywood satire "Speed-the-Plow." Replacing Jeremy Piven, who suddenly and some say fishily exited the production claiming to have mercury poisoning caused by excessive sushi consumption, this longtime Mamet veteran has come to the rescue with a performance that even tops his predecessor.

Macy -- who has appeared in such works by the playwright as "Oleanna," "American Buffalo" and "Bobby Gould in Hell," the fanciful sequel to this play -- well understands the rhythms of Mamet's musically profane dialogue. As Gould, a Hollywood production executive who briefly falls under the sexual spell of his secretary, Karen (Elisabeth Moss), who wants him to greenlight a movie based on a pretentious, apocalyptic themed novel, the actor delivers a performance that expertly combines macho swagger with vulnerability.

In the latter element he's more effective than Piven, who failed to make the character's conversion convincing. This is partly a result of the writing, which doesn't really work in the crucial second act when Karen arrives late at night at Gould's home to deliver her "report." But unlike Piven, who effortlessly conveyed the sort of arrogant bluster that also marks his award-winning turn in "Entourage," Macy has a wounded, world-weary demeanor that here makes Gould's sudden attack of artistic conscience much more credible.

He also interacts far more seamlessly with his co-star, Raul Esparza, who continues to steal the show as Charlie Fox, the ambitious producer looking for his old friend Bobby to greenlight a prison movie with a hot action star attached. Although he has a certain advantage given that his character has by far the most pungently hilarious lines, Esparza's machine-gun delivery and complex emotional shadings continue to astound.

Also still terrific is Moss, who at the performance caught demonstrated her admirable stage chops by refusing to be fazed by a disruptive audience member who noisily commented on his dissatisfaction with the proceedings when leaving in the middle of the show.

Venue: Ethel Barrymore Theatre, New York (Through Feb. 22)
Cast: William H. Macy, Raul Esparza, Elisabeth Moss
Playwright: David Mamet
Director: Neil Pepe
Set designer: Scott Pask
Costume designer: Laura Bauer
Lighting designer: Brian MacDevitt