Finally, some delicious gossip from Broadway. Stage stars rarely make the headlines in the "National Enquirer" or the covers of "People" and "Us" magazines. For the most part, they live private lives that are meant to be private. After a show, you might see them at a Theatre District bistro for a late-night snack, but no one mobs them. They're so normal.
Except for Jeremy Piven, who isn't a stage star anyway. The fast-talking star of television's "Entourage" was a natural choice for David Mamet's "Speed the Plow" and he didn't disappoint. Not on stage, anyway. But his personal mishigas got in the way and now he's disappointing theatergoers who went to see the play mostly for him.
Two weeks ago, Piven just walked out. Claimed he ate so much sushi that he had mercury poisoning. Upon hearing this lame excuse, Mamet said that Piven was actually trying to make a career change -- "he wanted a job as a thermometer." Raul Esparza, a Broadway leading man and Piven's co-star said, for the record, that this was the first time he enjoyed doing the play. Guess he and Piven had their differences.
Which is all well and good for the play since under the guise of business camaraderie, the two male and main characters are awful people. There is very little that isn't ugly about "Speed the Plow," Mamet's satire on the movie industry. The people who make the movies. The people who want to get the movies made. The people who want to get close to those who want to make the movies.
In the clipped, rapid-fire, F-word dialogue that is the hallmark of Mametspeak, two movie men jockey for power as they try to make a deal. Charlie Fox, a struggling producer, approaches his old friend Bobby Gould, a recently promoted studio executive, about a new property he has that's sure to be a moneymaker. It's action, a prison movie with lots of blood, violence and a "social theme." But Charlie has a deadline -- 10 a.m. tomorrow -- and he's in a panic.
The two are bonding, Bobby is promising to bring it to the unseen Ross, the big boss, and "greenlight" it. Charlie is grateful but Bobby says "forget it, you brought me Gold." In the meantime, he asks his temporary secretary, Karen, to give a courtesy read of a script by an "Eastern sissy writer" because he has no time: "I'm drowning in coverage. Everyone wants me to make his film."
Karen leaves, the two men trash Karen and Bobby bets he can get her into bed. What he didn't expect was that Karen wasn't as dumb as he thought and the Eastern sissy writer's script is now in competition with Charlie's action film.
On paper, this play looks like nothing, but performed by Piven and Esparza, it is magnificent. Their physicality reveals the subtext of this mean-spirited play, and shows Charlie and Bobby for what they are -- spiritually bankrupt businessmen without an ethic or a moral between them. Scratch their surfaces and you hit bottom. Charlie puffs incessantly on cigarettes, paces around the office, and does yoga exercises to hide the panic that underlies his bravado. Bobby's restless energy is his way of hiding the fact that he's merely Ross's lackey.
The colorless scenery, all white and beiges, matches the colorlessness of Bobby's and Charlie's personalities for these are men who have nothing to say unless it's in their own self-interest. But Mamet says so much with so few words, and in only 90 uninterrupted minutes.
Piven and Esparza were brilliant together but don't fret that Piven's gone. He'll be replaced by William H. Macy, a Mamet expert, on January 13th and guaranteed, Macy's performance will totally eclipse Piven's. Mamet and Macy started the off-Broadway Atlantic Theatre Company together and they are one.
What the press had to say.....
"When the curtain falls on this short and unsparing study of sharks in the shallows of the movie industry, itï¿½s as if you had stepped off a world-class roller coaster. The ride was over before you knew it, but youï¿½re too dizzy and exhilarated to think you didnï¿½t get your moneyï¿½s worth. Is cynicism supposed to be this energizing?" & "Through the simple devices of vibrant, perfectly chosen words delivered vibrantly, this production takes on helium that lifts it and its audience into the ether."
New York Times
"If this compact, 85-minute comedy isn't Mamet at his deepest, Neil Pepe's fine-tuned revival makes for an entertaining ride."
New York Daily News
"When Hollywood meets Broadway, sparks fly and Tinseltown's incinerated - especially if the flamethrower is David Mamet. So it is with "Speed-the-Plow." & "..the beautifully played revival that opened last night establishes the play as a modern classic." & "For its acting alone, this new "Speed-the-Plow" is a must-see."
New York Post
"An excellent new production" & "Director Neil Pepe fields an assured show dominated by Esparza's forceful presence as nervy Charlie." & "In a Broadway season promising one revival after another (including Mamet's own "American Buffalo" next month), this "Speed-the-Plow" sets a high standard for the rest to surpass. "
"Despite a cast that looks wonderful on paper, director Neil Pepe's production is small, tight and more angry than fabulously, shamelessly, joyously rude."
"Director Neil Pepe, artistic director of Mamet's Atlantic Theatre Company, stirs a trio of first-rate actors into a smooth ensemble." & "Pepe's production isn't meant to take anyone out of their comfort zone. To the contrary, it assures TV fans that they'll get just what they expect. But if it gives you a thrill to see TV actors in the flesh, this is the show for you."
Jacques le Sourd
"There is something unmistakably TVish about this production." & "Esparza and Piven deliver terrific performances that magnetically complement each other....Their slippery skirmishing and intermittent violence are a guilty joy to behold." & "Regrettably, Moss is nowhere near their league." & "The result is a trio for violin, viola and tissue-papered comb."
"Wickedly fine revival." & "Director Neil Pepe, a frequent Mamet collaborator, brings a keen ear for the playwright's blunt, jazzy rhythms, and he couldn't have better players."
"Exciting and deadly game of three-handed poker." & "This is a galvanizing production, given a sleek physical look by set designer Scott Pask and featuring a trio of speed-demon stars.
" "Speed-the-Plow" isn't major Mamet, but it's diverting, entertaining and happily confirms our worst thoughts about life in Hollywood."
"The bilious business of moviemaking remains as hilariously nasty as ever in David Mamet's "Speed-The-Plow," now two decades old but still packing heat in a sizzling revival." & "Mamet's incredibly punchy and profane dialogue, rat-tat-tat obscenities ... explode with assembly-line regularity thanks to Neil Pepe's taut direction and a terrific trio of actors." & "To really explode, "Speed-The-Plow" must star actors of equal intensity. With Piven and Esparza, this revival has found the perfect theatrically combustible pair."
"Cannily cast revival, proves more timely and sharp than ever." & "Mamet's razor-sharp comic dialogue makes its 90 minutes breeze by." & "Piven... is a little too subdued.., Esparza picks up the slack, delivering a furiously fast and funny performance that provides Mamet's hilariously profane dialogue its full impact." Frank Scheck
"Neil Pepe's taut Broadway revival keeps the verbal sniper fire swift and scathing, while the three accomplished actors make the air between them crackle with tension." & "Piven's tightly wound physicality and easy command of rapid-fire, hectoring dialogue make him a natural fit for Mamet." & "The comedy is pithy, smart and performed with prickly energy."