By Martin F. Kohn
There’s a Starbucks cup on Bobby Gould’s desk, which seems appropriate given that “Speed-the-Plow” is set in Hollywood, a place that’s all about stars and bucks. At least it’s that way in the Hollywood David Mamet satirizes in this dark comedy from 1988.
Rife with Mamet’s characteristic ping-pong dialogue (“Or…” “Yeah…” “Or…” “Yeah…”), “Speed-the-Plow” takes its name from an old phrase suggesting the need to work rapidly, and time is certainly of the essence here. Director Joe Bailey never loses sight of that in an intense and swiftly-moving intermission-free production at the Ringwald Theatre.
As the play begins Gould is still getting used to being named head of production at a movie studio when friend and associate Charlie Fox rushes in with a big announcement: Doug Brown, who is either the Meryl Streep or James Cameron of Mamet’s imagined world (he never identifies Brown as either actor or director), is eager to film a script Gould and Fox have.
But there’s a catch. Brown (never seen onstage) has given them just 24 hours to get the studio head’s OK and the studio head won’t be back until tomorrow. And the script, though a surefire moneymaker, is a cliche-ridden prison movie.
And there’s a complication: Gould’s new young secretary, Karen. To put the moves on Karen and make her feel important, Gould gives her another script to evaluate, an arty, poetic thing about the end of the world.
Here’s where the gang at the Ringwald Theatre make things even more interesting. In Joe Bailey’s production, Bobby and Charlie are women. Ringwald veteran Jamie Warrow plays Bobby, the role originated on Broadway by Joe Mantegna; all-over veteran Leah Smith plays Charlie, the role originated by Ron Silver. Karen remains female, played by relative newcomer Kelly Rossi in the role Madonna originated.
The question you ask yourself – all right, I ask myself – about choices like these isn’t why do it, but why not? Why not be adventurous, try something different and discover new things about an established play. (Don’t try this with “Waiting for Godot.” The Beckett estate will be on you like a cop at a speed trap and shut you down in rehearsal.)
Having Bobby and Charlie as women adds layers to their relationship, complicates how they relate to Karen and gets an audience thinking about what such women have had to do to get this far in a predominantly male world.
With the excitement of the perennial minor leaguer finally getting a shot at the big show, Smith is a bundle of random energy, wired but not quite haywire as she bounces around the office. Warrow, beneath her calm executive-like exterior, betrays the unease of the newly elevated. Rossi plays her character’s dewy-eyed faux naivete and underlying ambition with equal conviction.
The production slows down only for scene changes. They would be less of a speed bump if the vases and knickknacks were glued or otherwise anchored to the surfaces.
For an added element, occasionally check out each woman’s feet. Bailey doesn’t just direct actors from the waist up. This is one of the benefits of seeing live theater. In the movies they’d just zoom in on the faces.
The Ringwald Theatre, 22742 Woodward Ave., Ferndale. Friday-Monday through April 23. 90 minutes. $10-20. 248-545-5545. http://www.TheRingwald.com