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 V.21 No.19 | May 10 - 16, 2012 

Performance Review

Amoral in L.A.

The Vortex lines up David Mamet’s soulless film industry farce

Aaron Worley as Charlie Fox, Marc Comstock as Bobby Gould
Courtesy of Alan Mitchell
Aaron Worley as Charlie Fox, Marc Comstock as Bobby Gould
Speed-the-Plow is a play about the coke-addled, fortune-obsessed, power-crazed workings of late-’80s Hollywood, fortified with typical David Mamet misogynistic underpinnings. Also in true Mamet fashion, it’s a story in which all of the characters prove themselves despicable, some more than others. Yet Speed-the-Plow still manages to be light, frivolous fun.

Bobby Gould has been promoted. Now the head of production at a film studio, we meet him on his first day at the new gig, in an office slapped with paint samples. At his side is Charlie Fox, Bobby’s longtime friend and colleague. Charlie is an asshole. Alternating between rubbing his well-powdered nose and making lascivious remarks about the secretary, Charlie delivers Bobby some good news:

A major movie star is on board for a flashy and trashy prison/buddy flick Charlie has pitched. It’s a guaranteed blockbuster, and all it needs is the green light from Bobby.

The two immediately start counting their impending riches.

Meanwhile, they decide to make a wager about secretary Karen (no last name), who’s really just a temp for Bobby’s regular assistant. Assuming based on her appearance and demeanor that she is neither a slut nor an ambitious ladder-climber, Charlie bets $500 that Bobby can’t get her into bed. Lovely.

Bobby does manage to land her. And in their post-coital cooing, Karen convinces him to give up on Charlie’s blockbuster and instead green-light a dark and emotional film about the end of the world. Of course, this puts Charlie in a violent frenzy, and Karen turns out to be some kind of mastermind, leaving Bobby bloody and confused.

Marc Comstock as Bobby, Julia Harris as Karen
Courtesy of Alan Mitchell
Marc Comstock as Bobby, Julia Harris as Karen
The strangest aspect of Speed-the-Plow, perhaps, is that it doesn’t really have a true protagonist. Everyone kind of sucks. Charlie is a jerk without any discernible redeeming qualities. Karen seems like a decent human being until her manipulation and deceit are unveiled. Bobby is the most likable character, but only because he’s less horrible than the other two. He’s willing at one point to trade a vapid moneymaker for a film of substance, but whether this short-lived choice is due to a value system or merely a desire to impress a girl is unclear.

There’s also no outcome the audience can root for. Should Bobby give up a fortune to make a philosophical but probably still not very good movie at the behest of a dishonest woman? Or should he go through with the superficial blockbuster and relinquish any notion of personal growth? With so little emotional investment in the characters, it’s hard to care.

The Vortex Theatre’s version of the show gets off to a slow start. It takes a good chunk of the first act for the actors to settle into their characters, but they eventually do. Aaron Worley’s erratic, manic Charlie is injected with humor, which helps the character extend beyond its otherwise single dimension. Worley plays the part nicely. Julia Harris as Karen comes off a little stiff at first. But once her character gets out of the office and into the bedroom—where her job is to convince Bobby passionately and poetically to change scripts—Harris lights up. She’s magnetic, and she makes her power to sway Bobby believable. The best performance comes from Marc Comstock, who takes on Bobby. It’s in Comstock’s well-timed pauses and troubled expressions that the audience gets a peek at Gould’s humanity. And in a play where depth in the characters is rare, those slivers of emotion prove valuable.

It’s the actors who ultimately make this play fun. Once the script picks up and the three get more comfortable in their roles, they work off each other with buoyancy and grace. Sure, their characters exist in an ethical vacuum, but they’re having a good time, and so is the audience.

Speed-the-Plow is an easily digestible nugget. There’s no true turmoil, no great lesson, no victory. It’s just an entertaining bite of simple, syrupy theater.


Fridays and Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.
Sundays, 2 p.m.

Runs through May 20

The Vortex Theatre
2004 1/2 Central SE

Tickets: $15

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