Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Keeping Up to "Speed"

In case you've been living under a rock for the past month or so: Jeremy Piven bowed out of the acclaimed Broadway production of Speed-the-Plow rather suddenly just before Christmas, citing sushi-induced mercury poisoning (and inciting a war of words with the show's producers). Jumping into the breach were Norbert Leo Butz, for roughly a month, and now William H. Macy, taking over the role of producer Bobby Gould.

A number of daily critics have duly returned to the show and filed new reviews. Only the Times' Brantley bothered to check out Butz's Gould, but he and all the rest uniformly praise Macy's take, while most also note considerable growth in the performance of Elisabeth Moss and Raul Esparza. (How rare it is that a critic gets a chance to see, and note in print, how much a show can deepen over a long run. Wouldn't it be great if this happened more often, even without recasting?)

So whatever do we do about our grade? It doesn't make sense to change the grade from our initial culling, particularly because the individual review grades here have not really changed enough to affect the average grade. But we feel we ought to reckon with the new reviews--i.e., provide links and summaries. After the jump...

New York Times
(Ben Brantley) Now that I have seen two of Mr. Piven’s replacements in the central role of Bobby Gould, a film producer who catches a slight case of existential crisis, I am newly respectful of both Mr. Mamet’s accomplishment here and of the artistry of first-rate actors...Mr. Butz, an actor of infectious buoyancy (blissfully in evidence on Broadway in “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” and “Is He Dead?”), was warmer, less jaded and more boyish...Mr. Macy uses flat tones — which by degrees shade into fierce irritability and all-out anger — and his lean, weathered face to suggest the weariness of a man who has paid his dues, knows the score and is starting to think that he may have underestimated the price.

(David Rooney) Macy's long experience as a David Mamet collaborator shows in his mastery of the playwright's ricochet dialogue. Equally significant is the actor's screen persona -- shaped by a string of humiliated losers in films like "Fargo," "Magnolia" and "The Cooler" -- which adds poignant ripples of fear and desperation to his easily manipulated character...He's less shticky and fun than Piven was in the role but he has bone-deep vulnerability, which makes Bobby's momentary slip more plausible.

(Brian Scott Lipton) If one needs any further convincing that one actor's presence can change the dynamic--and even meaning--of a play one already knows, look no further than William H. Macy's performance as Bobby Gould...Macy's world-weary gravitas adds an entirely new and welcome dimension to Mamet's amorality tale of wheeling-and-dealing in Hollywood--and the result is now somewhat less funny but ultimately more truthful than any production of the work I've seen before.

Talkin' Broadway
(Matthew Murray) By virtue of his natural business-schlub-next-door charm and his lickety-split spitting of Mamet’s decadently staccato dialogue (something Piven did not quite possess), Macy has transformed a character completely unlike his familiar screen personae into one exactly like them - while losing nothing along the way.

Hollywood Reporter
(Frank Scheck) Macy...well understands the rhythms of Mamet's musically profane dialogue...The actor delivers a performance that expertly combines macho swagger with vulnerability. In the latter element he's more effective than Piven, who failed to make the character's conversion convincing. This is partly a result of the writing, which doesn't really work in the crucial second act when Karen arrives late at night at Gould's home to deliver her "report." But unlike Piven, who effortlessly conveyed the sort of arrogant bluster that also marks his award-winning turn in "Entourage," Macy has a wounded, world-weary demeanor that here makes Gould's sudden attack of artistic conscience much more credible.

AM New York
(Matt Windman) Compared with Piven, Macy delivers a performance that is far more sincere, hesitant and subtle. Unfortunately, Macy’s line readings are much slower, turning what was a marathon of rapid-fire, overlapping dialogue into a tranquil walk in the park. The ensemble chemistry has changed significantly because Macy is much older than Piven, as well as the rest of the cast. It is no longer believable that Bobby Gould and Charlie Fox, played by Raul Esparza, are buddies who survived the mailroom together. However, the age difference between Gould and his temp secretary Karen, played by Elisabeth Moss, makes him more vulnerable to her sexy looks...In any event, Neil Pepe’s sharp production still provides smart entertainment that will rock you, shock you and leave you in hysterics.

American Theatre Web
(Andy Propst) With the addition of Macy to the ensemble that also includes Raul Esparza and Elisabeth Moss, director Neil Pepe's staging of the play seems to be newly minted, and for anyone who saw the show when it opened last October, a return visit seems almost required. For theatergoers who have not taken the show about a pair of viperous film executives and the young woman who finds herself embroiled in their lives, it's probably never been a better time to catch the show.

Daily News
(Joe Dziemianowicz) Piven gave a solid performance. But Mamet's comedy of movieland wheeler-dealers and the tug of war between art and commerce is zestier and zippier now. The play remains a bantamweight affair (a swift 85 minutes), but Macy deepens the dynamics all around.

Associated Press
(Michael Kuchwara) Well, there's an upside to Jeremy Piven's highly publicized departure last month from the Broadway revival of "Speed-the-Plow." David Mamet's scabrous comedy of Hollywood high jinks has gotten even better...Macy's expertise with Mamet's quicksilver repartee shows. He's confident with the language, batting it back and forth with the skill of a tennis ace. The actor plays Bobby Gould, a movie studio executive who is being dangled a hot property, a surefire prison buddy picture...Brashness is tempered by experience, although Bobby still can go for the jugular when the need arises. Only he does it with more quiet authority.

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