Raul Esparza and William H. Macy in Speed-the-Plow.
BOTTOM LINE: Dare I say the perfect Broadway play?
Sometimes the perfect Broadway cast is assembled: they command the stage with such presence and work together with such ease that you lose yourself completely in what’s unfolding before you. Part of the reason live theatre is so amazing is because when talent presents itself right there in front of you, you can’t help but feel the energy radiate through the theatre. For both of these reasons, along with a fantasticly edgy script, Speed-the-Plow is one of the best shows on Broadway this year.
Written by David Mamet, a mogul among American playwrights, Speed-the-Plow chronicles 36 hours in the lives of 3 characters: a recently promoted movie executive at the top of his game (Bobby Gould, played by William H. Macy), his co-worker and long time friend (Charlie Fox, played by Raul Esparza), and the temporary secretary working at Gould’s office that particular day (Karen, played by Elisabeth Moss). The banter, scheming and power exchanges that subsequently occur are the result of everyone’s desire to move ahead professionally in a cut-throat industry. None of these people are inherently bad, they just embrace a dog-eat-dog work environment. Charlie explains to Karen, “Life in the movie business is like the beginning of a new love affair: it's full of surprises, and you're constantly getting fucked.”
Although Plow takes place in the 1980s, it’s in no way outdated now. It was originally staged on Broadway in 1988 (fun fact: Madonna played Karen, in her only Broadway credit to date). This revival feels perfectly at home in 2009; really, costumes and use of technology are the only aspects that date it.
Macy, Esparza and Moss are a fantastic threesome. Although Plow has been running for months now, the night I saw the show all three actors brought it with the utmost professionalism, energy and attention. This production saw its share of drama with an out-of-the-blue cast change in December. If you were anywhere near a pop-culture resource then, you no doubt saw that Jeremy Piven, the original Bobby Gould in this revival, dropped out of the role without warning after he reportedly got mercury poisoning from eating too much sushi. The press had a field day with that one, labeling Piven a divo and a pain to work with. Esparza was outspoken about his joy that Piven was out of the cast, saying that it was a much more pleasurable experience without him sharing the stage. I didn’t see Piven’s portrayal but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that there must’ve been a reason he was cast. Luckily though, his replacement is nearly perfect; you couldn’t possibly miss Piven because Macy does such a supurb job, adding such panache and deftness to a script that you know he totally gets.
Mamet’s plays are usually biting and witty, and his characters know their way around a conversation. Speed-the-Plow is no exception; one-liners are thrown across the room and the enthusiasm remains high throughout the intermissionless ninety minutes. These characters are high strung and the urgency is reflected in the pace of the play, kept pumping by director Neil Pepe.
Speed-the-Plow is expertly executed both on stage by the cast and off-stage by the production team. It’s a joy to see such talented actors play together in a production they clearly love being a part of. And Mamet’s script is funny, sincere, charming, and full of surprises. Speed-the-Plow closes February 22nd so there isn’t much time to check it out. But if you can, I recommend it. It’s what a night at the theatre should be.
(Speed-the-Plow plays at the Ethel Barrymore theatre, 243 West 47th Street. Show times are Tuesday at 7pm, Wednesday through Saturday at 8pm, Wednesday and Saturday at 2pm and Sunday at 3pm. Tickets are $49.50–$116.50. For tickets visit telecharge.com and for more info visit speedtheplowonbroadway.com.)