Speed-the-Plow, David Mamet’s scathing black comedy about the silver-screen industry, is packed with juicy, profane, eminently quotable, laugh-inducing zingers. ”Life in the movie business is like the…beginning of a new love affair: it’s full of surprises, and you’re constantly getting f—ed.” ”Everyone wants power. How do we get it? Work. How do they get it. Sex.” ”You’re a f—en’ bought-and-paid-for whore, and you think you’re a ballerina cause you work with your legs?”
Yet the bits that get the biggest laughs of the night? ”Everybody says ‘Hey, I’m a maverick.’ But what do they do? Sit around like, hey, Pancho-the-dead whale.” And later: ”Everyone says ‘I’m a maverick’ but we’re, you know that, just one part of the whole, nobody’s a maverick.” When he wrote the play two decades ago, there’s no way Mamet could have known that ”maverick” would have become a watercooler buzzword, drinking-game cue, and political punch line. But he must be eating it up — the audience certainly is.
Would that the rest of this revival were as sharp as Mamet’s prescient pen. The three actors are ideally suited for their respective roles: Entourage star Jeremy Piven as brash Hollywood honcho Bobby Gould, stage dynamo Raúl Esparza (Company, The Homecoming) as his bootlicking underling Charlie Fox, Mad Men breakout Elisabeth Moss as ambiguously naive secretary Karen. Yet even perfect-on-paper casting can go awry. Piven is essentially doing his Entourage character, and we can’t exactly fault him for that. The foul-mouthed, morally repugnant Ari Gold is a direct descendant of Bobby Gould. Ari probably wouldn’t exist were it not for Bobby. (Let’s hope Entourage creator Doug Ellin did something to thank Mamet. If not, may we suggest sending a crumb cake?) But if you’ve seen Piven’s multi-Emmy-winning turn on Entourage, you’ve seen his whole bag of tricks — and he doesn’t have anything new up his sleeve. Moss is more of a mystery, even for avid Mad Men viewers. She’s not straying too far from her TV alter ego either. And though she shows a natural affinity for Mamet’s intricate speech patterns, she loses herself — and us — for the entire second scene (there are only three total). True, she’s talking a whole load of crap; Karen’s trying to persuade Bobby to greenlight a film based on a book called The Bridge: or, Radiation and the Half-Life of Society. A Study of Decay. (”Yeah. It’s a Summer picture,” cracks Esparza, who, while the TV stars aren’t looking, walks away with the entire show.) But she’s not selling us. What is she planning to do — hypnotize him with those jangly gold bangles she’s wearing? Seduce him in those terribly unflattering men’s jeans? Moreover, nothing she’s saying (”I’ve been bad, I know what it is to be lost…We needn’t be afraid”) sounds at all convincing. Piven looks as puzzled as we are — when we can see him, that is; he spends half the scene turned upstage. Where is director Neil Pepe’s hand in all of this? If anyone should know his way around Speed-the-Plow, it’s Pepe, who runs the Mamet-cofounded Atlantic Theater Company.
It should be noted that Moss doesn’t have a lot to work with — it’s Mamet, after all, and the men have the juiciest parts and get all the great lines. Which means that 9 times out of 10, the women get…Well, you can fill in the blank. B- (Tickets: Telecharge.com or 212-239-6200)