Thursday, January 10, 2008

Speed The Plow: ☼☼☼ 1/2 BANG L-R-L

In medieval times, one friend might say to another: "God speed your plow," which roughly meant "Good luck, pal," with a touch of "Do good work." But we are hard pressed to find any work at all being done by Bobby Gould or Charlie Fox, the two Hollywood movie studio executives at the heart of David Mamet's 1988 'Speed The Plow," playing at A.C.T. through February 3. Mostly, the two men dance around each other in Gould's office, with the clever Fox attempting to compliment the vapid Gould into giving the green light to Fox's movie project, a move that could...could...make both of their careers.

By 1988 Mamet knew whereof he wrote. He was finishing up his Hollywood phase, having written screenplays for 'The Postman Always Rings Twice,' 'The Untouchables' and 'House of Games,' with the memorable film version of 'Glengarry Glen Ross' still to come. So he knew how to toss out zingers like:

Bobby: "I piss on money."

Charlie: "I know you do, and I'll help you."

Gould (Matthew Del Negro, fresh from his recurring role on The Sopranos as financial advisor Brian Cammarata) is as tall, handsome and successful as Fox (Andrew Polk) is short, fat and desperate. So the relationship of the two long time friends is ripe to be tested -- cue (Hollywood vamp music, please) the beautiful Karen.

Played rather quietly by Jessi Campbell (remember, on stage in New York this role was played by Madonna!), Karen is determined to have her way with Bobby, which she most certainly does. As Act One ends, she opens her arms, looks into Bobby's eyes and cries: "What if you prayed to be pure and your prayers were answered? Well, here I am."

Act Two takes a most appreciated twist. Let's just say the two men are smiling and smoking cigars at the end, but it ain't no Hollywood Happy Ending.


Mamet never disappoints. There is even a special Mamet Category: Squirms. Speed The Plow is a Three Squirmer: Left-Right-Left. One Star for that. Another goes out to Andrew Polk and another to Matthew del Negro -- Polk earns his for the way he lounges in Bobby's chair at the end of Act Two, after an hour and a half of barely disguised hostility. It's a masterful job. Del Negro just says his lines, but that's all he's supposed to do. He shares his star with director Loretta Greco for allowing him the luxury of not overacting. A half star and a smile for Sound Designer Jake Rodriguez, whose wonderful faux-Hollywood sitcom music fills up all the holes. A Special Bang is awarded for Charlie's comment 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 f***ed."

"Speed The Plow"
American Conservatory Theater
415 Geary Street, San Francisco
Tue-Sun through Feb. 3. $17-$82

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