"Speed-the-Plow" (1988) is a play by
David Mametwhich is a satirical dissection of the American movie business, a theme Mamet would revisit in his later films " Wag the Dog" (1997) and " State and Main" (2000).
Hollywoodmid-level producers Bobby Gould and Charlie Fox engage in a verbal boxing match centered around the eternal debate of art versus money. Should Gould recommend to his unseen boss another bad action would-be blockbuster? Or should he put himself on the line for a film adaptation of a spiritual, uplifting, and apocalyptic novel? The office's temp acts as catalyst in this debate. Gould has her read the novel in order to report on it to him later at his apartment. He has a secret bet that he will bed her; there she gives a glowing review of the novel's themes and content, and Gould becomes deeply affected by her and her analysis. However, she is ditched next day at the office in the play's cynical finale, with Gould's partner, Fox, accusing her of using sex to get a place in the movie business.
The play sets its context (not to be performed) with an epigram by
William Makepeace Thackeray, from his novel " Pendennis", contained in a frontispiece: It starts: "Which is the most reasonable, and does his duty best: he who stands aloof from the struggle of life, calmly contemplating it, or he who descends to the ground, and takes his part in the contest?" Gould finds himself on both sides of this dilemma, and at times in the play he "stands aloof," and at other times he "takes part" in life's contest, with its moral strictures.
There is an 18th century English play by
Thomas Mortoncalled Speed-the-Plough, which gave the world the character of that arch-prude Mrs. Grundy, but Mamet has never indicated that he is familiar with it. In an interview in The Chicago Tribune(Feb. 19, 1989) he explained the title as follows:
"I remembered the saying that you see on a lot of old plates and mugs: 'Industry produces wealth, God speed the plow.' This, I knew, was a play about work and about the end of the world, so 'Speed-the-Plow' was perfect because not only did it mean work, it meant having to plow under and start over again."
Jack Krollof " Newsweek" described "Speed-the-Plow as "another tone poemby our nation's foremost master of the language of moral epilepsy."
"Speed-the-Plow" premiered on Broadway at the
Royale Theatrein a production by the Lincoln CenterTheater, opening on May 3, 1988 and closing on Dec 31, 1988 after 279 performances. The cast featured Joe Mantegna(Gould), Ron Silver(Fox) and Madonna (Karen). The play was nominated for a Tony Awardfor Best Play and Best Direction of a Play (Gregory Mosher). Silver won a Tony Award for Best Actor (Play). It has since been produced countless times in regional theaters and schools across the country. A 2006 revival in Los Angeles featured Alicia Silverstoneas Karen.
In 2008 it played at London's
Old VicTheatre, starring artistic director Kevin Spaceyas Fox, Jeff Goldblumas Gould, and Laura Michelle Kellyas Karen. [Billington, Michael. [http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2008/feb/13/theatre2 "Speed-The-Plow",] "The Guardian", February 13 2008]
The first Broadway revival of "Speed-the-Plow", directed by
Atlantic Theatre Companyartistic director Neil Pepe, began previews at the Ethel Barrymore Theatreon October 3, 2008, with an opening scheduled for October 23. The cast features Jeremy Pivenas "Bobby Gould", Raúl Esparzaas "Charlie Fox", and Elisabeth Mossas "Karen".
David Rabe's play and subsequent film adaptation " Hurlyburly" could be considered a companion piece to "Speed-the-Plow", centering on the empty lives of a group of Hollywood executives after the debate was won by money.
Bobby Gould's story is continued in the one act play "
Bobby Gould In Hell", also by Mamet. Arthur Kopit's play "Bone-the-Fish," later rewritten as "Road to Nirvana," was written in response to "Speed-the-Plow."
* [http://www.ibdb.com/production.php?id=4507 Internet Broadway Database listing, 1988 production]
* [http://www.ibdb.com/production.php?id=480735 Internet Broadway Database listing, 2008 production]
Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.