Mamet's Plow Slaps Hollywood Silly

By: Feb. 09, 2007
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Hollywood is the town where young dreamers flock, hoping to one day be discovered and launch into a career of cheers and stardom.  It is a place where everyone walking down the street, be it bum or barista, has within them the next cinematic masterpiece.  And often, dreams come true, albeit not those of the idealists, rather those of the money hungry men in the black tower.  The real winners in this city of make believe are concerned with only one thing, the bottom line, and as David Mamet brilliantly captures in Speed-the-Plow, which opened Wednesday at the Geffen Playhouse, these power players will stop at nothing to succeed.

Geffen's artistic director, and helmer of this revival, Randall Arney, has made a bold decision in bringing Mamet's biting satire against the inner workings of Hollywood back to ground zero.  After all, many of the studio executives barbed at in the play are bound to wander in off the walk of fame, only to be reminded how narrow minded the business truly is.  Yet, it has been nearly 20 years since Plow bowed on Broadway.  Hasn't the ruthless structure of Hollywood changed since then?  Sadly no, which is all the more reason why Plow remains a hysterical inward look at the town it mocks so well.

Mamet holds no punches in his vitriolic tirade against the movers and shakers of the silver screen.  And surprisingly, the only noticeable revamp in this revival is a number shuffle of film budgets, speaking loudly to Mamet's firm grasp of a business he is no stranger to, penning such films as "Wag the Dog" and "Oleanna."  That is not to say Plow is without any faults, but on a whole, it remains a fresh, must see production, showcasing Mamet at his best.

Bobby Gould (Jon Tenney) is a newly anointed production head eager to wield his power and green light a film, any film in fact, which will rake in the big bucks.  Tenney (The Heiress, Biloxi Blues) captures the essence of a man conflicted, puffing his chest when called upon to show who is boss, yet buckling under pressure after having a soul searching revelation, deciding to forgo a seat-filler opting for a rather profound art house endeavor.

The slick talking smarminess Tenney exudes on stage is all too familiar in Hollywood, which is the precise reason it works so well.  Tossing aside his business chum, Charlie Fox (Greg Germann), for the idealistic Karen (Alicia Silverstone), only to "sober" up in the eleventh hour, Gould shines a spotlight on the reality of an impenetrable world the big studio fish swim in here, and where values hold little or no weight.

With his goal in sight, to "make the thing everyone made last year," Gould's egotistical plight is nurtured by the unscrupulous shark, Fox, played frighteningly well by Germann (Biloxi Blues, TV's "Ally McBeal").  With a cutoff of $40 million for a budget, these two set off to produce a prison film sure to be the next blockbuster.  Germann tears through Mamet's rat tat tat banter like a well-oiled machine gun, with his punchy delivery and pent up energy bursting out.  At times Germann is able to take your breath away out of sheer exhaustion.

The sparks really begin to fly near the end as Gould and Fox have their own clash of the titans, resulting in bruised egos and a movie to be made.  Out is the nuclear waste, end of the universe think piece Gould had been seduced into approving after Karen gets her grip on him, and back on the slate is the mindless drivel that is a major motion picture.

Unfortunately for Silverstone (Boston Marriage, "Clueless"), Plow is much more of an old boy's club, not leaving much room for her naïve Karen to come across as very sympathetic.  And she certainly has interesting shoes to fill, as Madonna first tackled the role in the original Broadway production to much dismay of the critics.  Silverstone by no means delivers a poor performance, rather she has little to work with.  With locker room talk and bravado abound, Karen, on a temporary job assignment, plays the voice of reason to Gould, and to the entire industry for that matter.

As Gould attempts to bed his new Girl Friday while in the confines of his sharply designed living room (sets by Robert Blackman), he becomes caught up in her web of idealistic passion, starting to question the world he works in.  Karen's profundity in reading a spec book reeks of a greenhorn in Hollywood as she becomes worked up over the philosophy in The Bridge, or Radiation and the Halflife of Society.  Must be a real page-turner.  In the end, when profits trump idealism, Karen sums up her place in this industry, saying, "I don't belong here."

With Tenney and Germann delivering exemplary performances and playing such bigger than life characters, Speed-the-Plow is a wild romp through the reality of Hollywood.  Plow's costume design is by Blackman, lighting by Daniel Ionazzi.  The production stage manager is Michelle Magaldi and assistant stage manager is Dana Anderson.

Performances continue through March 25, 2007 at the Geffen Playhouse, located at 10886 Le Conte Avenue in Los Angeles.  Tickets are $35-$65 and are sale in person at the box office, online at, Ticketmaster or by phone at 310-208-5454.

Photos by Michael Lamont.


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