Arts & Theater

Mamet’s ‘Speed-the-Plow’ highlights Hollywood commerce-art divide

The B Street Theatre production of David Mamet’s “Speed-the-Plow” features Dave Pierini and Stephanie Altholz.
The B Street Theatre production of David Mamet’s “Speed-the-Plow” features Dave Pierini and Stephanie Altholz. B Street Theatre

The dialogue in David Mamet’s “Speed-the-Plow” hurtles at you in jagged slivers of invective. Comic and cutting, this 1988 Hollywood satire takes place mainly in the office of a newly minted head of studio production, Bobby Gould. It’s Bobby’s job to find and make movies that make money for the studio. The question arises, though: What if Gould could make a movie that spoke to the human condition? Would making that movie be better than making a lot of money?

Gould (Dave Pierini) is in his first day on the job when longtime associate and occasional rival Charlie Fox (Kurt Johnson) comes bearing a gift in the form of a ready-made movie package featuring hot bankable star Doug Brown. Brown has agreed to do a prison buddy comedy Fox sent him many months before. They just have to set the deal within 24 hours. In Mamet’s version of jumping for joy, the two men recount their struggle to claw their way out of studio obscurity and what their newly gilded future might look like.

Gould and Fox banter in the familiar Mamet way of men who express themselves with curt poetic bluntness. Pierini and Johnson beautifully work the rhythmic give and take. Johnson’s vulgar Fox basks in finally hitting the big time after years in the trenches. Pierini’s circumspect Gould is sincere and appreciative of his old friend’s loyalty. There’s just one thing: They need approval from Gould’s boss, the head of the studio. Before they can meet with him, the studio head has to postpone for other business.

Coming between the two men, though, is Gould’s temporary secretary, Karen (Stephanie Altholz). The temp may not get coffee very quickly or know how to make lunch reservations for a studio honcho, but she has ideas about movies. She seems naive about the ways of the world but, then again, is she really? Karen has a passion for art the two men never had. After Gould has her “courtesy read” an apocalyptic book, “The Bridge,” which he has no intention of green lighting, she tries convincing him the movie should be made and people would go see it. The book sounds an awful lot like Cormac McCarthy’s dismal “The Road,” which of course no one saw.

Director Jerry Montoya expertly opens up Mamet’s comic banter. What might have seemed dated feels appropriate and honest about a “same as it ever was” Hollywood ethos and a middle-aged white male sensibility.

Mamet tells the story in three taut scenes that take place over two days. The first and third scenes are in Gould’s office, while the pivotal middle scene takes place at his home. Much like his signature works “American Buffalo” and “Glengarry Glen Ross,” Mamet indulges in men enveloped in their workplace and talking, talking, talking about the true nature of that work and ultimately about the true nature of themselves.

Marcus Crowder: 916-321-1120, @marcuscrowder

Speed-the-Plow

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What: David Mamet’s typically caustic satire on the true nature of Hollywood moviemaking. Jerry Montoya directs with Kurt Johnson, Dave Pierini and Stephanie Altholz.

When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday; 8 p.m. Thursday-Friday; 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Wednesday and Sunday through Nov. 6.

Where: B Street Theatre Mainstage, 2711 B St., Sacramento

Cost: $26-$38. $8 student rush

Information: (916) 443-5300, www.bstreettheatre.org

Running time: 95 minutes with no intermission.

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