BOTTOM LINE: Dare I say “the perfect Broadway play”?
Sometimes an ideal Broadway cast is assembled: they command the stage with such presence and work together with such ease that you lose yourself completely in whatâ€™s unfolding before you. Part of the reason live theatre is so amazing is because when talent presents itself right there in front of you,Â you canâ€™t help but feel its energy radiate through the audience. For these reasons, as well as a fantastically edgy script, Speed-the-Plow is one of the best shows on Broadway this year.
Written by David Mamet, a mogul among American playwrights, Speed-the-Plow chronicles 36 hours in the lives of three characters: Bobby Gould (William H. Macy), a recently promoted movie executive at the top of his game; Charlie Fox (Raul Esparza), his coworker and longtime friend; and Karen (Elisabeth Moss), the temporary secretary working at Bobby’s office that particular day.Â The banter, scheming, and power plays that subsequently occur are the result of everyoneâ€™s desire to move ahead professionally in a cutthroat industry.Â None of these people are inherently bad — they just embrace a dog-eat-dog lifestyle.Â Charlie explains to Karen, â€œLife in the movie business is like the beginning of a new love affair: it’s full of surprises, and you’re constantly getting fucked.â€
Although Speed-the-Plow takes place in the ’80s, itâ€™s in no way outdated.Â It was originally staged on Broadway in 1988 (fun fact: Madonna played Karen, in her only Broadway credit to date).Â This revival feels perfectly at home in 2009; really, the clothes and the ’80s technology on hand are the only aspects that date it.
Macy, Esparza, and Moss are a fantastic threesome. Although Speed-the-Plow has been running for months now, all three actors performed with the utmost professionalism, energy, and attention the night I saw the show. The revival saw its share of drama with an out-of-the-blue cast change in December: as you may have heard, thanks to plenty of coverage in the world of celebrity gossip, Jeremy Piven, who was playing Bobby, dropped out of the play without warning after he reportedly got mercury poisoning from eating too much sushi.Â The press had a field day, labeling Piven a diva and a pain to work with.Â Esparza was outspoken about Piven leaving the play, saying it was a much more pleasurable experience without him.
I didnâ€™t see Piven’s performance, but Iâ€™ll give him the benefit of the doubt — there mustâ€™ve been a good reason he was cast as Bobby in the first place. Luckily, his replacement is nearly perfect. You couldnâ€™t possibly miss Piven since Macy does such a superb job, adding panache and deftness to a script you know he totally “gets.” (He’s been working with Mamet since the ’70s.)
Mametâ€™s plays are usually biting and witty, and his characters know their way around a conversation.Â Speed-the-Plow is no exception — one-liners are thrown across the room like curveballs, and the enthusiasm remains consistently high throughout the play’s intermission-free 90 minutes.Â These characters are high-strung, and their urgency is reflected in director Neil Pepe’s pumped-up pacing.
Speed-the-Plow is expertly executed both onstage by the cast and offstage by the production team.Â Itâ€™s a joy to see such talented actors play together in a production they clearly love being a part of.Â And Mametâ€™s script is funny, sincere, charming, and full of surprises. Speed-the-Plow closes February 22, so there isnâ€™t much time left to check it out, but if you can, I recommend it.Â Itâ€™s what a night at the theatre should be.
Speed-the-Plow plays at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 243 W. 47th St. Showtimes are Tue 7 PM, Wed-Sat 8 PM (also Wed and Sat 2 PM), and Sun 3 PM. Tickets are $49.50â€“$116.50 and can be purchased at telecharge.com. For more info on the play visit speedtheplowonbroadway.com, and for more New York theatre reviews visit theatreiseasy.com.