American playwright David Mamet is all about language and rhythm. Characters like to hear themselves talk. They go off on riffs. Just a word from someone else can trigger the verbal diarrhoea. Other people can barely get a word in edge-wise. When something akin to dialogue happens, the words are fragments of thoughts which makes for the staccato rhythm of the Mametian cadence. Pacing is everything.
The good news about Soulpepper’s production of Speed-The-Plow is that director David Storch puts Mamet’s style in your face. It is artifice writ large. The audience is acutely aware that the characters live in an expressionism Mametian existence where reality has been placed on hold. Their fragmented sentences rage supreme. The emphasis on Mamet’s style may not be to all tastes, it being mostly loud and abrasive, but Storch has certainly paid homage to the playwright.
The title is taken from a 14th century olde English saying “God speed the plough”, which means “May you have prosperity”, which in itself is ironic as the 1988 play takes place in Los Angeles, and is about the movie business. Bobby Gould (Ari Cohen) has just been made head of production for a major movie studio. In Dana Osborne’s set, his new office is still under renovation. Bobby’s associate Charlie Fox (Jordan Pettle) brings him news that Douglas Brown, a huge star, likes the prison script that Charlie gave him, and will make the picture with their studio (and not the one across the street). Bobby immediately arranges a meeting with Richard Ross, the head of the studio.
Enter Karen, Bobby’s secretary temp. Charlie bets Bobby $100 that Bobby can’t bed her. In taking up the challenge, Bobby gives Karen a “courtesy read” – an important book that could never become a popular movie. It’s a weighty tome about radiation and the apocalypse. She’s to bring her notes about the book to his home that evening (whose large picture window has the de rigueur, spectacular night time view of the Los Angeles cityscape). And so things are in place for the great crisis to happen that will affect the hopes and ambitions of all three people. The rest of the play is a veritable dance of death.
Cohen and Pettle are electric, shooting out their high voltage personas at incendiary speed. They are both mean, lean and hungry. The play, after all, is a satire about the movie business, and Mamet’s caustic touch, according to director Storch and his cast, has to be obvious. Sarah Wilson as Karen has the more difficult role. She is initially passive, but comes alive in the second act when she justifies the movie potential of the radiation book. Wilson pulls off this difficult feat with aplomb – an enthusiastic, almost naïve overtone, with a strong sexual subtext.
The play runs all three acts together, but the 100 minutes fly by on the wings of Mamet’s corrosive language and the cast’s acute delivery.
Speed-The-Plow by David Mamet, (starring Ari Cohen, Jordan Pettle and Sarah Wilson, directed by David Storch), Soulpepper, Young Centre, Jul. 5 to Sept. 22, 2012