Opening Night Nirvana

A delayed posting of Amtrak jottings written hours after our Sunday night opening of Speed-the-Plow. The train takes me up to the 2nd Annual Sidney Krum Schmooze Festival where Theo Bikel gives a 9 AM keynote and I follow with a 10 AM mini-paper on the State of the Arts. So it’s literally 3 hours of sleep before the train. But the brain is still honed on the intoxicating rhythms from our performance of SPEED on Sunday night and the joy of watching our 3 stars hit their strides together; the entire production finding its groove with the most technically assured and commanding performance of the run coming when we needed it most.

Our opening night audience is electric in their responses. I get this emailed to me the next day, from a Council member, very much in the spirit of things: “The performance last nite was one of the best fucking shows I’ve seen all year. From A to Z is was superb. Congrats!”

Commanding. Rhythmically assured. Funny. Ferocious. Poignant. Can I please write our own reviews? Or better, can’t you, dear blog reader?

We got this first very next morning, on Monday, from Marilou Donahue of Artistically Speaking. “Peter Birkenhead, Danton Stone and Maghan Grady give performances that raise the bar in David Mamet’s play Speed-the-Plow at Theater J under the stylish and energitc direction of Jerry Whiddon. This is a cutting comedy/drama as relevant today as when it had its Premiere 20 yers ago. It is highly recommended. Speed-the-Plow is electrifying, engrossing and exciting.”

For my purposes, I am deeply satisfied by our production, by the incredible pleasure in savoring Danny and Peter and Meghan’s individual and collective performances. The play plays with a deep resonance about how men continue to behave in the workplace everyday, subjected to a tremendous tyranny from the market and those superiors who make rewards based on accrued revenues. It has a way of contorting behavior, doesn’t it? The mores of men at work; that theme sang rather brilliantly before the assembled on Sunday night.

Ah, but now all eyes will shift, not to the artistic pleasures of the performance, but to how we perform at the box office. And so the themes of the play become the story of our theater company as well. As we wrote all along. Remember this excerpt from our September posting:

Why return to this vicious little chestnut? After all, we’ve been producing nothing but new plays for what feels like the past hundred years (rather, make that two; in fact, seven out of the past eight openings at Theater J have been world premieres. Enough already!) Speed-the-Plow is predicated on the rather cynical supposition that audiences and producers don’t really want the new; they want what was successful last year. It’s important to acknowledge that voice within us, both as artists and audiences; that we’re at war with our desires to assuage a more conservative, success-proven ethic with our lingering impulse to blaze a trail.

And even more to the point, when we ask, “why produce this?” There’s an easy answer: Because we love it. We (and we’re speaking royally) love the craft of it; the music; the invective; the gleeful ferocity of all that pent-up frustration. And we love that off-stage “East Coast Sissy Writer” who’s written the un-filmable novel that represents something of our rarefied, not-for-profit art world sensibility. Mamet lays waste to the fragile and weak-kneed only to confer on it a new integrity as surprise heroine, Karen, the temporary secretary, discovers in the East Coast Sissy Writer something prophetic about our contemporary condition. Certainly she hits the bull’s eye in naming Bobby Gould’s rootless miasma, adrift in a valueless, idolatry-soaked Hollywood.

In short, we’ve picked this play not because it has something poisonous to say about Hollywood. Rather, it’s got something bitterly incisive to say about us. We have become as consumed as Bobby Gould and Charlie Fox with the lure of box office lucre. We’ve been made to be as anxious about the bottom line as our Tinsel Town brethren. The remarkable aspect of this play, twenty years after its creation, is we see ourselves in these Chicago pals now more than ever. As they’re corrupted by capital, so are we. As they await redemption (of one form or another), so too do we. We’re all a night away from a total transformation and we can all equally snap back to form when rubber hits the road or, to engage in Mametspeak, shit hits the fan. Mamet’s Hollywood feels a whole lot less remote than it did a generation ago.

Join us for a wonderfully vicious, revealing evening of theater.

Yes, indeed. Join us. For a production we’re incredibly proud of.