Left - Kasia Kaczmarek, Mark Diaco and Colin Mac Pherson. Cover - Mark Diaco and Colin Mac Pherson
To be pure or to profit? It's an age-old theme that Speed-the-Plow tackles in David Mamet's trademark style - sharp, gritty and no holds barred.
'Industry produces wealth, God speed the plow.' We all work to get ahead, but would we be happy with our life's meaning if the world ended tomorrow? Speed-the-Plow, like so much of Mamet's work, is about morals, or the lack of them.
Bobby Gould (Mark Diaco) is a mid-level Hollywood producer who's just been promoted. He's allowed to greenlight a picture and has to decide whether to choose a surefire but vapid commercial success or a powerful piece of cinema that may ruin his career. His friend and colleague Charlie Fox (Colin MacPherson) and his new naive office temp (Kasia Kaczmarek) are both offering him advice, but do they each have agendas of their own?
Speed-the-Plow is all about the dialogue. Mamet's writing tends to have a certain inherent authenticity to it. His characters seem lifelike and convincing - they cut each other off, talk over the top of each other and repeat themselves from time to time. His characteristic writing style (think Glengarry Glen Ross, The Untouchables, Wag the Dog) is on display here - biting, fast and to the point, laced with the language of the street.
"You think you're a ballerina 'cause you work with your legs, but you're a whore, Bob."
Speed-the-Plow is not an easy play to direct, despite the richness of the material. Matt Emond has done a good job, letting the dialogue drive the performance but using the minimalist set's furniture to visually reinforce the verbal power struggle of the play's three protagonists.
The actors' performances too are good, energetic yet subtle and all delivered in flawless American accents. Particular credit must go to Colin MacPherson whose character appears to be channelling Alan Alda, with all that actor's attendant charm, confidence and scorn. Kasia Kaczmarek also delivers an understated and enjoyable performance as the office temp who the audience gradually discovers is not as naive as she seems.
The role of conflicted producer Bobby Gould is a tough one as the strength of the whole play and the focus of the three-way conflict rests upon the shoulders of this character. Mark Diaco acquits himself admirably with a solid performance, yet one can't help but feel there is more value to be wrung out of Mamet's excellent script.
Although Speed-the-Plow is set inside the Hollywood studio machine, the key themes the play grapples with - loyalty, integrity and ambition - are universally resonant. A truly masterful production of this play should engage everyone in the audience with the sense of what it's like to wake up one day in your forties and realise you've wasted your life. To feel the ache of missed opportunity and the agony of dreams which are now impossible.
Human Sacrifice Theatre's production instead offers up a fairly vanilla interpretation, but this is not a bad thing. It's fascinating enough watching the power shift as dreams are built and lives are torn apart all with words alone. The small venue only adds to the intensity; the audience enjoys a fly-on-the-wall perspective as the psychological drama unfolds.
Speed-the-Plow is thinking-person's entertainment - deliciously cynical, broodingly resonant. Human Sacrifice Theatre have done a commendable job, doing justice to an intimidating script without venturing too far outside the box. If you've never seen it before, this is a great introduction to Mamet's memorable work.
Human Sacrifice Theatre presents
by David Mamet
Venue: Chapel off Chapel | 12 Little Chapel St Prahran Vic 3181 (Melway 2L-J10)
Dates: May 7th - 24th 2009
Times: Thursday/Friday/Saturday - 8pm shows and Sunday 6pm show
Tickets: $29 (Full) $25 (Concession)
Box Office: 03 8290 7000
By Special arrangement with Dominie PTY LTD