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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Playhouse Theatre      Autumn-Winter 2014

David Mamet's plays are frequently about the lies men tell themselves to allow them to live with the despicable things they do. 

In American Buffalo amateurs convince themselves they're master criminals while being unable to manage a simple burglary; in Glengarry Glen Ross crooked salesmen speak of loyalty and camaraderie while stabbing each other in the back. 

And in Speed-The-Plow a Hollywood producer of shlock movies almost destroys his career by believing he's really a sensitive soul and an artist. 

Bobby Gould has just been made head of a studio when his buddy Charlie Fox comes to him with a sure thing, an action film with a big action star that will make them both rich and powerful. 

But the secretary he's trying to bonk talks him into doing an arty and unsellable novel instead. Can Charlie save his friend's soul from fatal purity by reminding him of the values that really matter in Hollywood? 

Mamet's script is full of telling satire of Hollywood and also the playwright's patented mastery of the way men talk, especially when they're trying to project a confidence they may not actually have. (It is also, in signature Mamet style, liberally sprinkled with the limited variety of obscenities that are the backbone of many men's vocabularies.) 

But it is not without respect for this world. These guys are, as they frequently remind each other, whores and shlockmeisters, but their honesty gives them a certain purity and they are good at what they do. For Gould to wander too far into the delusion of being an artist would be to destroy a talent he actually has. 

It has been something of a tradition over the years for this play to be marketed on the gimmick casting of the secondary role of the secretary (e.g., Madonna on Broadway in 1988), and all the posters and publicity for this revival feature the face of actress-singer Lindsay Lohan as if this were a concert or one-woman show. 

Actually Lohan does better than many in the role. She's actually sexy, which helps, and she projects an intelligence that makes it believable that the character consciously uses her sexiness to further her ambitions.

It's Richard Schiff as Gould and, to a lesser extent, Nigel Lindsay as Fox who disappoint. Both are essentially character actors and, as directed by Lindsay Posner (Yes, the show is awash with Lindsays), both give essentially supporting actor performances rather than commanding and holding the stage.

(Consider the last London revival in 2008, with Kevin Spacey and Jeff Goldblum in the roles, and you'll sense the electricity that's missing here.) 

Nigel Lindsay at least generates some energy out of the initial excitement and then desperation of Fox as his big break is threatened. But Richard Schiff delivers the usual reliably solid journeyman job he can be counted on in secondary roles in film and TV, which isn't enough here.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Speed-the-Plow - Playhouse Theatre 2014  
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