Speed The Plow
Tara Egan Langley in Speed The Plow. Image Ste Murray
Speed The Plow, David Mamet’s 1988 satire on the power plays and privileges of the movie business, is problematic at the best of times. Longwinded, repeating the same points in case you missed them the seventy-first time, quoting from a novel so dire you’d gladly bring back book burning; this is not Mamet at his succinct and energised best. To then decide to invert the play's gender roles, only to have your original director (Janet Moran) jump ship due to health reasons, is reason enough to send most companies clambering frantically for the lifeboats. But not Verdant Productions. Hail, rain or sinking ship, the show must go on. And while you may not admire everything about the end result, you cannot help but admire their tenacity and determination in steering this production safely to harbour.
Inevitably proving a bumpy ride, Speed The Plow sees all involved digging deep. A little too deep sometimes. Jolly Abraham’s Charlie, looking wired too high and wound too tight, is pitched like a soprano sustaining too many high notes. Played with an energy drink fury, Charlie’s lack of finesse leaves her nowhere to go. Her best moments arriving in the third act when the denouement is revealed and the gloves come off. In contrast, Tara Egan Langley’s newly promoted Bobby is a professional film producer personified. Knowing what works, and what doesn’t, her calm, assured manner and sensible smarts make it credible that she should have been promoted rather than the high strung Charlie. Whose film project Bob’s just agreed to green light.
Jolly Abraham, Tara Egan Langley and Macleod Stephen in Speed The Plow. Image Ste Murray
All of which makes for a big ask when Macleod Stephen’s Kevin, a sleaze ball with the innocent look of a cherub, pitches his desire to be involved in a movie based on a novel Bob asked him to appraise. The appraisal a ruse to win a five hundred dollar bet with Charlie that she could get the duplicitous Kevin into bed. That Bob could fall for Kevin’s ruse stretches credibility. That she would suddenly decide to make such an awful book into a movie snaps it clean in two. The movie equivalent of The Tibetan Book of The Dead, it’s guaranteed to be a sure fire miss. Leading to a rousing third act as Charlie confronts Kevin, forcing Bob to make a choice. But in Hollywood, where everyone uses everyone else, aren’t all choices ultimately arbitrary?
Under Andy Crook's direction, the whole holds together extremely well, even if it doesn’t always gel deeply enough or consistently ignite. There being a sense of Crook taking the wheel after Moran, the original director, recently seen accepting her best actress award at the ITTA’s, had charted the course past the point of no return. Crook’s role more to keep things on course than impressing his own personality deeply on the material. Not that it’s completely absent, it’s just the whole still feels like a directorial work in progress. Take composition. Abraham's Charlie dominates every millimetre of space, with Bob compressed into a chair behind a desk for much of the time. Visually, the effect suggests an invested Abraham muscling others out of her way. Which might play well in the third act, but not in the first. Her manipulative Charlie, whose barbed compliments make most insults sound flattering, is in need of reining in. Less in need of reins so much as a stick of dynamite is the dynamic between Kevin and Bob, which exudes such a lack of sexual tension viagra couldn’t raise the temperature. This might well speak to the current theatrical climate, yet with desire lacking a sense of sexiness, sleazy or otherwise, something important gets lost.
Jolly Abraham in Speed The Plow. Image Ste Murray
There’s a case to be made for pulling a project should your director bail. But given financial and scheduling commitments, promises made and people to be paid, the reputational damage alone can be considerable. It’s a gamble either way. If Speed The Plow doesn’t quite hit the jackpot, it's not without its payouts. The high-low chemistry between Egan Langley and Abraham is often compelling and, with a little fine tuning as the run settles in, is sure to intensify. The ramifications of the gender reversal also look like they might reveal more the longer the run goes on. If sex is power, there’s enough to suggest men and women see sex differently in certain regards, and the same way in others. Interestingly, Madonna played the Kevin character (originally Karen) in the original production in 1988. Her acting ability was criticised even as she proved a box office draw. It might not break the box office, but Speed The Plow shows grace under fire, and comes at you with all barrels blazing.
Speed The Plow by David Mamet, produced by Verdant Productions, is currently on tour.
Civic Theatre, April 6 - 8
Pavillion, April 13 - 15
Ramor, April 26
Droichead Arts Centre, April 27.
For more information, visit Verdant Productions