Speed-The Plow


By 1988 David Mamet had turned his considerable gifts toward Hollywood, and in that year's Speed-the-Plow he aimed his caustic sensibility at the power players who bring us such gems as the Mr. Bean sequel. Bobby Gould (Tim McGee) has just been promoted at his studio (and granted the power to greenlight projects) when subordinate Charlie Fox (Steve Sweere) arrives with crapola gold: a prison flick with a star attached to it. Soon our boys have visions of big money dancing through their corroded minds, which they celebrate by embarking on a mutual bullshit session in which they praise one another's loyalty and goodness. The pair are thrown into a lather with the arrival of Karen (Heidi Bakke), a desirable office temp. Soon enough Bobby has bet Charlie 500 bucks that he can bed the young lady by the end of the evening. In due course Bobby concocts a plot involving Karen reading a horrible novel, then coming to his place that evening to detail its prospects for a film. And here things get weird. McGee and Sweere are all power and energy up till now, throwing themselves with alarming gusto at their characters' deceptiveness and bad faith. But when Karen arrives at Bobby's place, Bakke traces a path from breathy naiveté to feline seductiveness that leaves McGee looking appropriately stunned and in no way displeased. The first act ends with surreal intensity, with Karen outlining a new bullshit paradigm for Bobby and shaking his amoral world loose from its moorings. It's assured and thrilling stuff, and a hard act to follow. In the second half, Bobby informs Charlie that the sure-fire prison film is off, and Karen's beloved book about radiation and global transformation will be made in its stead. Charlie understandably goes ballistic and sets about trying to bring his boss back to the logic of his previously corrupt but pragmatic ways. Mamet stacks the deck by making Karen's project so transparently putrid (Charlie's choice is between crap that makes money and claptrap that won't), but it's ultimately a minor quibble. This show slithers with strange, compressed reality, and no shortage of power. You may feel like taking a shower afterward, but it's a small price to pay for the experience. —Quinton Skinner