Review: Speed The Plow (Soulpepper)

Toronto theatre mixes wit with cynicism in Soulpepper’s production of David Mamet’s Speed the Plow.

Speed the Plow is David Mamet, so it’s full of fast paced banter full of witticism and cynicism. What makes the dialogue believable is that it is also written in the same way people actually speak: not in full sentences but instead in overlapping, in trailing off, in cutting off, in fits and starts.

As you can also expect from Mamet, the characters are trying to manipulate each other for their own personal gain. The game for the audience is to figure out what motives, if any, are underlying the obvious ones, and to predict who will come out on top.

The place is Hollywood, and we start in the office of Bobby Gould (Ari Cohen), who has just been made Head of Production of his movie studio. This means he gets to decide what films get brought to the big boss to get green-lighted. One of his long-time underlings, Charlie Fox (Jordan Pettle) brings him a proposal for a generic flick with a big-time star – a sure money-maker. However, Bobby’s interest in seducing his temporary secretary, Karen (Sarah Wilson), means she might get a say in what he decides to do.

There are three scenes: Bobby’s office, his living room that night, and his office again the next day. The set design accommodated this adeptly, and I was especially impressed with the way the window in Bobby’s living room displayed his view of L.A. (obviously a status symbol) but also reflected the actors. I also enjoyed the way his office transformed from the first day to the second; it showed a movement towards being more ensconced in his new position, but also manifested some of the themes of the piece.

The material requires sure footing from the actors, and Cohen, Pettle and Wilson were up to the task. At first the character of Karen seems lost in the boisterousness of the men but in the second scene she comes into her own in a manner so tenuous it could easily have been unbelievable in less adroit hands.

If I had any complaints, it was that so much of the humour happened so fast that there was no time to laugh, but that’s tricky in Mamet: the dialogue is supposed to be rapid-fire. And if you want a show with “heart” this is probably not for you. This is a play that does not believe that people are inherently good, or that “good” is achievable even if you try – in Hollywood, at least.

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Photo of Sarah Wilson & Ari Cohen by Cylla von Tiedemann