BWW Reviews: SPEED-THE-PLOW Gains Momentum and Refuses to Slow Down
Rarely has a curtain call so nicely traced the arc of a play as Otterbein University's production of SPEED-THE-PLOW did last Friday at the Campus Center Theatre. At the conclusion of the three-act play, each one of the actors Tori Hidalgo (Karen), Sam Ray (Charlie Fox) and Sean Murphy (Bobby Gould) try to sit in the comfortable leather chair behind the boss' desk only to be shooed away by another.
The power play of musical chairs summed the David Mamet play perfectly. Throughout the course of the play each one of the characters tries to assume varying degrees of control of a movie studio only to lose the power to someone else.
In the first act, Gould reclines comfortably in the chair of his new office as a newly hired Hollywood executive. Murphy conveysa vulnerability and awkwardness of someone who has just been the keys to a new Porsche but has no idea how to drive it. Gould's job of presenting movies to an unseen studio head for his approval becomes a lot easier when Fox, a friend who works for Gould, presents the new executive with an opportunity of a lifetime. Director Doug Brown (think someone of the caliber of Steven Spielberg or Oliver Stone) has agreed to produce a prison buddy movie for Gould's studio. Both Fox and Gould dream of the power and money the deal could mean to them.
Enter Karen, an attractive temporary secretary assigned to Gould's office. Hidalgo comes off as a gentle, trusting office girl blind to the ways of Hollywood powerbrokers. While she is out of Gould's office, Fox makes a crass $500 bet with Gould, saying despite his position, Gould could never land a girl like her. Gould makes his play for Karen, offering her a chance to do a courtesy read of "The Bridge or Radiation and the Half Life Society." Gould knows the book is a hopeless opus, way too arty to become a blockbuster movie, but uses as a way of luring Karen to his bungalow in the hills.
In Act 2, Karen assumes power. Instead of being seduced, she uses her looks and her enthusiasm for the book to entice Gould into abandoning Fox's project and make hers instead. Hidalgo handles the transition from a meek secretary in a dowdy skirt to a woman making her play smoothly. She looks into his eyes and dreamily delivers the line: "Do you know what it says? It says that you were put here to make stories people need to see. To make them less afraid. It says in spite of our transgressions - that we could do something." It's believable and easy to see why Gould would fall for her.
Things switch gears again in Act 3. Ray does a first-rate job of capturing Fox's desperation and anger as he believes his ship has finally come in only to sink in the harbor for the sake of art. When Gould explains he believes in the book, Fox counters with "I believe in the Yellow Pages but I don't want to film it." Fox becomes the alpha male, slugging Gould and ripping his shirt. He finally convinces Gould to let him ask Karen one question: Would she have slept with Gould if he said he wasn't going to make her movie? As Karen reluctantly admits she wouldn't have, Gould slumps in his power chair, realizing he's the one that has been had. When Gould leaves to change into new shirt, Fox asserts his power not only firing Karen but telling her if she returns to the studio, he will have her killed.
With the show being performed in the round at the Campus Center Theatre (affectionately known as The Pit), it was intriguing to watch the audience's reactions to Mamet's words and the cast's actions. Their mouths were agape in disbelief, wrinkled in amusement or drawn into tight thin lines in anticipation at all the appropriate times. The audience never looked bored.
In the end, Otterbein made something that Gould and Fox could never achieve. They made something real, something connects with the audience, something real.
SPEED-THE-PLOW will hold its final two performances 8 p.m. Nov. 8-9 at the Campus Center Theatre (100 W. Home Street in Westerville). Call (614) 823-1109 or visit the Art Scene page at www.otterbein.edu/drama for more information about the Otterbein University Theatre season.