Wednesday, October 22, 2008



By David Mamet, Directed by Neil Pepe. The Barrymore Theatre. (CLOSED)

Critics mostly go gaga for David Mamet's cynical poisoned valentine to Hollywood. Raul Esparza gets a lot of the kudos, but Jeremy Piven, the biggest star in the show, gets most of the ink (NOTE: Piven bowed out of the role Dec. 17, to be replaced by Norbert Leo Butz and then William H. Macy; new reviews are reckoned, though not graded, here). Critics are more divided about Elisabeth Moss, some love her and some (Terry Teachout and John Simon amongst them) decidedly don't. Raul Esparza has his partisans, too.

TalkingBroadway A
(Matthew Murray) Watching this production is like watching what John McCain and Barack Obama's presidential debates should have been: two men admitting the acidic rules of operation, but exhibiting the myriad ways they can still work within those strictures to win the day. Neither Bobby Gould (Piven), the new head of production for a major studio, nor the producer Charlie Fox (Esparza), is vying for a country—at stake for them is the surefire blockbuster Charlie has attached a star to, provided he gets his answer immediately. But at these levels, Mamet argues, Big Business and Big Politics are one and the same.

The New York Times A
(Ben Brantley) Speed-the-Plow has no business feeling so fresh. There was novelty in Mr. Mamet's acid-etched portrait of greedy, foulmouthed Hollywood players when it opened in 1988. But since then the dirty business of film production has become the stuff of daily business pages, nightly telecasts, snarky Web sites and a slew of self-flagellating movies about movies...Yet this production is, for me at least, even more vital than the original...What makes Speed-the-Plow so exciting is its power to define and destroy an entire self-contained world through the tools and weapons of spoken words, expertly wielded by a very live cast.

NYPost A
(Clive Barnes) Now, 20 years after its premiere—in which Madonna took much of the initial limelight—the beautifully played revival that opened last night establishes the play as a modern classic. The cast—Jeremy Piven as a freshly anointed Hollywood producer, Bobby Gould; Raul Esparza as Charlie Fox, Bobby's best friend, mailroom buddy and underling; and Elisabeth Moss, Bobby's new temp—are all superb, but this time around, it's Neil Pepe's smooth-as-silk direction and the play itself that hold the stage.

Talkin' Broadway A
(Barbara & Scott Siegel) The play itself is a good, solid work of black comedy, but in this revival it's all about the acting...The current production offers Raúl Esparza giving a performance that is, in a word, sensational. There are other reasons to see this play: it's smart, riveting, and entertaining. As for the other two stars, Jeremy Piven is a solid foil and Elisabeth Moss is perfectly cast. But you'll come out of the theater simply raving about Esparza.

USA Today A-
(Elysa Gardner) It's a measure of the blossoming triumph of commerce over art—not just in the movie business, but in television, music and, dare I say it, print and online media—that Speed-the-Plow seems even more topical today than when David Mamet introduced it.

The NJ Star-Ledger A-
(Michael Sommers) A seasoned hand at Mamet's works, Atlantic Theater Company artistic director Neil Pepe fields an assured show dominated by Esparza's forceful presence as nervy Charlie, especially so when his character melts down into explosive rage. By turns jaunty, confused and shaken, Piven believably portrays Bobby as a smarty-pants undone by passion. Playing enigmatic Karen—the character is noticeably underwritten, perhaps deliberately so—Moss exudes deep sincerity, which is as valid an approach as any to a problematic role.

Philadelphia Inquirer A-
(Toby Zinman) Mamet, the wizard of obscenity, seems, by contemporary standards, less obscene; the venomous misogynist seems, by contemporary standards, just a reporter. If there is danger here, it is that wild satire has become depraved and funny realism.

amNew York A-

(Unsigned Review) Piven and Esparza practically explode with high-powered male aggression. While Esparza indulges in excessive eccentricity and Piven sincerely portrays his character's change of heart as a religious rebirth, Moss is seductively low-key. Her character is a seemingly pure, delicate flower who nearly destroys her boss's career with her high art ambition of making a real human connection.

The Washington PostA-
(Peter Marks) The play, over in a 90-minute blink, might not be an achievement on the high plateau with Glengarry Glen Ross, Mamet's last word on the dog-eat-dog ethos of the American salesman. Although written later, Speed-the-Plow feels as if it were a forerunner of Glengarry. Compared with the full-blown theatrical rush supplied by that earlier, Pulitzer-winning comedy-drama, Speed provides only a pungent buzz.

Associate Press A-
(Michael Kuchwara) 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.

LA Times A-
(Charles McNulty) Left me feeling as though I had just received the theatrical equivalent of a plasma infusion. Thrillingly acted by the unbeatable trio of Jeremy Piven, Raúl Esparza and Elisabeth Moss, this taut tale of Hollywood power-mongering and manipulation could just as well be set in our era were it not for the fashion choices of these would-be movie moguls, which continually remind us that the play takes place in the garishly grasping 1980s...One of the fall season’s major bright spots.

Backstage B+
(David Sheward) Now a new generation of young stars is tackling Mamet's dark screed against movie land — and by extension all of our popular culture. This revival, directed with an emphasis on the first word of the title by Neil Pepe, features a more evenly balanced cast, and the play is now an exciting and deadly game of three-handed poker.

The Journal News B+
(Jaques Le Sourd) Happily, Speed-the-Plow hasn't aged by one minute. Indeed it seems somehow more timely, with its repeated references to the most traditional characters being "mavericks"—that earns a loud laugh—and its thematic concerns with the collapse of the economy and the end of the world.

The Hollywood Reporter B
(Frank Scheck) Although the play never quite convinces in terms of its situations and characterizations, Mamet's razor-sharp comic dialogue makes its 90 minutes breeze by. And his observations about the movie business—in which the credo is, "Make the thing that everybody made last year"—are even more relevant today than when it was written.

TheaterMania B
(David Finkle) While director Neil Pepe and his cast meet most of the script's demands, the production never quite reaches the same fully explosive possibilities as Matthew Warchus' recent London production, starring Kevin Spacey and Jeff Goldblum.

The Record B
(Robert Feldberg) Speed-the-Plow isn't major Mamet, but it's diverting, entertaining and happily confirms our worst thoughts about life in Hollywood.

Variety B
(David Rooney) The play may be 20 years old but David Mamet's astringent observations on the supremacy of commerce over art in Hollywood are still as fresh as last night's rushes...Speed-the-Plow remains on-target in its sardonic skewering of an industry run by self-confessed whores and driven by the public's appetite for mindless escapism. Despite a weak midsection, 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.

New Yorker B
(Hilton Als) Piven is a very good comedic actor, and this is his show...[He] doesn't take up as much room here as he does on television, which is as it should be. Acting big on camera, Piven pulls back onstage, and the subtleties in his performance are transfixing...Both Esparza and Moss are perfect in their parts...but being perfect in their parts requires a certain superficiality...In Speed-the-Plow, one of his lesser plays, Mamet maintains his distance from his characters, mocking their silly needs and their foolish talk...Piven's solid artistry deserves a deeper Mamet.

NY Daily News B
(Joe Dziemianowicz) David Mamet's Speed-the-Plow is back on Broadway for another go-round of behind-the-scenes greed and movieland maneuvering. That theme has been covered extensively in the 20 years since the play's first run (think The Player or Entourage), and if this compact, 85-minute comedy isn't Mamet at his deepest, Neil Pepe's fine-tuned revival makes for an entertaining ride.

The Wall Street Journal B-
(Terry Teachout) In a Mamet play, the dialogue must sound like an Uzi being fired at a big brass bell, and Mr. Piven, despite his extensive stage experience, is a bit too soft around the edges to keep the bell ringing. As for Ms. Moss, she gives an unconvincingly mousy one-note performance as Karen, the seemingly idealistic young woman who gets under Mr. Piven's skin. I last saw Speed-the-Plow a year and a half ago in a much better-balanced staging at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles in which Alicia Silverstone played Karen. Would that that version — or the recent London production that starred Kevin Spacey and Jeff Goldblum — had come to Broadway in place of this interesting but uneven revival.

Bloomberg B-
(John Simon) If you are impervious to all this, you may speculate about the meaning of the title. "Speed the plow'' is an old English expression of encouragement and was, indeed, the title of an obscure 1800 play by Thomas Morton. Mamet, who can always go the obvious one better, adds a couple of hyphens to the title by way of orthographic mystification.

New York C+
(Dan Kois) Esparza so nails the particular aggressiveness of Mamet's Hollywood phony that resentment and ego transform even Charlie's thank-yous and apologies into thrusts and slashes...Too bad his co-stars are so hopelessly overmatched, playing characters who are dull 2/4 riffs on the 5/4 weirdness of their respective television roles...Speed-the-Plow's view of simplistic even for satire.

Newsday C-
(Linda Winer) Pepe is artistic director of the Atlantic Theater Company, Mamet's Off-Broadway home base. The playwright, famously loyal, went with this production instead of transferring a London smash starring Kevin Spacey and Jeff Goldblum. In the play, the do-gooders probably are as corrupt as—and more foolish than—the do-badders. Alas, the decent impulse is not rewarded here, either.

TalkinBroadway A 13; NYTimes A 13; Talkin' Broadway A 13; NYPost A 13; USAToday A- 12; NJ Star Ledger A- 12; Philadelphia Inquirer A- 12; AP A- 12; WaPo A- 12; AMNY A- 12; LA Times A- 12; Backstage B+ 11; The Journal News B+ 11; New Yorker B 10; Hollywood Reporter B 10; TheaterMania B 10; The Record B 10; Variety B 10; NY Daily News B 10; Wall St. Journal B- 9; Bloomberg B- 9; New York C+ 8; Newsday C- 6; TOTAL: 250 / 23 = 10.87 B+

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