“Speed-the-Plow” is about two Hollywood executives who are preparing to pitch a terrible-sounding but sure-to-be-money-making prison film to the studio head. They only have the option until the next morning, which is quite the forced timeline for allowing all sorts of dramatic things to happen. We only have 24 hours to pitch this to the boss! Oh no! He’s going to NYC for the day? Well let’s just meet him tomorrow morning and hope he’s not late, instead of mentioning anything about the film to him on the phone! Idiots.
Bobby is the newly minted head of production, and Charlie is his longtime, long-suffering associate. I say long-suffering because we get the idea that the two friends have been working together for a long, long time, but Bobby is the only one who has been promoted or paid well. So what is that about? Judging this production, I would say it’s because Americans think British people are smarter because of their accent, and Bobby (despite the understudy’s best efforts), is clearly British, so he got the promotions. Charlie, on the other hand, can do a super impressive American accent, so his studio bosses assumed he wasn’t as smart or cultured as Bobby. My blurring of the lines between the actors and their characters seems only fitting given the nonsense of this flimsy play and how much my mind wandered throughout. And indeed, Charlie’s accent was so impressive (especially compared to Bobby’s FAILURE TO SAY HIS R’S) that I almost thought he could be a compatriot. But then I saw his name was Nigel Lindsay. Nope. Not American. Can’t be more British than that. (Nigel was actually quite great in the role. But he acted like and physically resembled Norbert Leo Butz enough that I couldn’t help dreaming of how amazing Norbert probably was in the Broadway revival.)
Lindsay plays Karen, a role – originated on Broadway by Madonna, never forget – that is both thankless and demeaning, but with great shoes. She’s a temporary secretary for Bobby, and we know she is new to the movie business and quite naïve about its operating because she tells everyone she meets how ‘naïve’ she is every five minutes. It’s a super short play, less than 90 minutes, and half the words were Lindsay saying ‘naïve’. The other half was Bobby the Britman saying “entuh-tainment”. (And “unduh-stand”. SAY YOUR R’S. It’s the ONE rule of doing American accents.)
Bobby has been given a book about radiation and the end of the world and humanity and stuff to provide a ‘courtesy read’, which means he will read it to be nice but there’s no way in hell the studio would ever make it as a film. He tells naïve Karen this, and naïve Karen is like, but why? “Because it wouldn’t make money.” But why? “Because no one wants to see a movie about that.” But why? “BECAUSE I SAID SO DO YOU UNDUH-STAND?”
But Karen won’t take no for an answer, so she goes to his house at night, even though he’s gross and old, to discuss the enormous long book that she somehow read in its entirety and tabbed between finishing her work day and dinner time. Karen loved the book, to say the least. She thinks it’s the most brilliant piece of writing that e’er touched her heart and thinks it would somehow make a great movie. This is where Mamet gets both lazy and annoying. Karen reads SO MUCH OF THE BOOK out loud to us in her attempt to convince Bobby of its brilliance. All the parts she reads sound like the Dalai Lama when he is in a drug-induced dream fighting off Ewok-shaped clouds. Then the tables sort of turn, and even though we know Bobby is trying to seduce her, she starts seducing Bobby. It’s gross because Bobby is old and can’t say his r’s. Karen just keeps reading high Dalai Lama passages until Bobby says he’ll make the movie with her and then they doooo it. So gross.
Obviously this play is blargh. The only possible theme or moral you can take from it is that Hollywood values money over boring stories (ooh burn!) and that women ruin everything. David Mamet is like a more jackassery version of Aaron Sorkin, which makes sense because a smart friend of mine (not the internet) told me that Sorkin was inspired by Mamet. But Sorkin is better because at least “The West Wing” had solid female characters that weren’t just wimmins being vagina-havers that bother the men, as all female characters in Mamet works turn out to be because he seems a misogynist at heart. Lindsay’s character here exists only to mess up the bro dynamic between the two male leads, and then when the men realize that she messed with their heads (seemingly not with bad intentions), they dispose of her. OH no they don’t kill her, they just kick her out and say “Try getting another job in Hollywood ever again, missy!” which is maybe worse. Like what jerks.
If anyone can explain to me why this play is called “Speed-the-Plow”, and why hyphens, I will give you a cookie. Is this a famous phrase that other people know about and I just never learned, like wag the dog or get the pip? Don’t know it. (Interestingly, Mamet wrote “Wag the Dog” as well. But that one doesn’t have hyphens! Why not! Why is he messing with our minds?) So, in closing, you should see it. I think that’s what I’m trying to say.