Nelson Knows Not Our Nirvana; Washingtonian Does

Four raves are in. No bad news yet. Only Nelson Pressley’s “good-not-great” assessment in the Post, with a most contradictory set of headlines; on the front page of the Style section, the reader is greeted with a color pic of Peter Birkenhead and the header “Mamet’s Zingy, Engaging Speed-the-Plow at Theater J” while on p.3 the headline reads “Speed in a Lower Geer.” Nelson suggests that the show, while funny, isn’t riotous; and while “compulsively watchable, it’s not the comic slap in the face it was two decades ago.”

And so the result of a good-not-great series of less-than-enthusiastic compliments may or may not be a kiss of death. So far we’ve continued to sell tickets – $2,500 over the last 36 hours. Much of this is because of the incredible word-of-mouth.

And then there are the terrific notices, including a rave received today from Susan Davidson in Washingtonian under the header, Speed-the-Plow is fast, funny, and scathing at Theater J.”

Let’s read the Washingtonian review in its entirety, as we hope for more good news to come tomorrow in the Washington City Paper, Jewish Week, Washington Times, Potomac Stages, Faiga Levine at Channel 26, and others.

Here’s Susan Davidson:

“Given the themes of lies, lust, and power in Speed the Plow, first produced in 1988, it is surprising that playwright David Mamet ever got to eat lunch in Los Angeles again. With his customary harsh tongue and sharp dialogue, Mamet skewers Tinsel Town for its lack of integrity and intelligence, its duplicitous ways of doing business, and the fact that so many of its players are on the make for power, sex, and money. Forget the noble project about the end of the world due to radiation written by “some East Coast sissy novelist” and greenlight the prison-buddy flick—that’s the mantra, that’s the name of the game: “Put asses in seats.” “Make money.”

The title Speed the Plow refers to the work ethic. Do your job and money will follow. That’s certainly been true for Mamet, who has spent the last two decades writing for both stage and screen. His latest play, November, about an election in the United States, will open on Broadway in January. Meanwhile, Speed the Plow is at Theater J through November 25.

For most of the two hours spent in the company of producers Charlie Fox (played by Peter Birkenhead), Bobbie Gould (a superb performance by Danton Stone), and Karen, the temporary secretary (played by Meghan Grady) who keeps saying, “I may be naïve but . . .” (she’s not), the audience is kept guessing: Who’s screwing whom?

Two aspects of this production stand out. The first is Danton Stone’s performance as the duper and the duped. He’s dynamic and funny, surprising and yet steady—completely in control of the role, the stage, and the audience. Also noteworthy is the break between Acts 2 and 3: In one minute and 50 seconds, the stagehands, in full view of the audience, transform the set from a Los Angeles producer’s super-modern home—all black leather, chrome, and modern art—to his slick office in the process of being painted. It is the kind of theatrical moment, impossible to replicate in a movie, that reminds us of the not-always-visible skills and people involved in live performances. Add to the list of standouts Jerry Whiddon, who directed this excellent production.”