And it’s important to remember that; our biggest hits, our consensus critical darlings, have always had a detractor, or two, or three; the literature attracts contrarians as does the nature of evaluating both live performance and modern text — there’s all that much more to critique! And with our current playwright, “everyone’s an expert on Mamet,” director Jerry Whiddon told me last night as he stopped by our Thursday night performance (which started at 8:15, a special time, after the 6:30 NEXTBOOK lecture by New Yorker author Adam Gopnik, riffing for an hour on the history of Jewish comedy.)
So let’s be honest with ourselves, as I was with students last night, in discussing the decidedly mixed reception that’s emerged after new reviews have trickled in; unimpressed musings from the City Paper’s Bob Mondello who mourns the fact that “the Baldwin brothers — a couple of them anyway” who as he was told, apparently (incorrectly) “were contemplated as a casting option for Theater J’s Speed-the-Plow” — weren’t cast. “Might’ve been interesting in a voyeuristic sort of way. David Mamet’s Tinseltown satire about the machinations of sixth-tier producer-wannabes who get a shot at moving up a tier or two can use a little extra frisson these days.” Well, we’re pretty excited about the frission of superb actors Birkenhead and Stone, but much of the commentary has centered around the fact that Stone’s Gould is, well, just too eager to be liked; too humane; too “nice?” “Dulls the satire. Mellows the melodrama. Slows the Plow.” Shall we live with that?
It seems that’s what Pressley in the Post, Blanchard in the Washington Times, and Tom Avila in Metro Weekly are all saying in one (imperial) way or another; that the performance of Bobby Gould demands a vicious veneer and we’re showing too many time consuming cracks in the enamel hard exeterior of the not-quite-real man prototype of the Hollywood slick-o money grubber.
I think we’ll have to live with it. Mamet’s been dividing audiences, critics, theater-majors and families for a couple decades now. Not quite a brand name in our mass entertainment culture, but a genre unto himself in our field, everybody’s got a take on the guy, and on how he should be best performed.
I’m quite pleased that Danton and Jerry and our entire team insisted on an original portrait of a role rendered one way (and rather definitively, as luck would have it) by the great Joe Mantegna but now reinvented and rethought by an actor of extraordinary openness and thoughtfulness. Too thoughtful? Does too much emotional inflection dull the subtext-less style of dear David’s famously hard dialogue?
I don’t think so. I think the King of Lean can withstand some soul.
So rock on Danton, and rock on PB, and rock on Meghan/Madonna and lead us to that place where we all really want to go and we’ll walk in the sun: It’s the land where “the people come” — or, in not-for-profits parlance (as distinguished from the Hollywood land of lucre where one counts the “jolly-jolly shitloads” worth of “lots and lots” of loot, but rather, more simply), that modest pot at the end of the rainbow known as our “nut;” the line where we “break even;” or in this case, the magical number 47 (as in $47,000 in single ticket sales).
Last week we were on course to get there. Post-Post review, we brought in $9,000 for the week. Do the math (we’re currently at $24,000 in advance and received single ticket sales – and we run through November 25th); $9K a week gets us there plus… On Monday and Tuesday, we brought in $2,500 — it was looking good. Wedneday and Thursday, less than half that. Not so good. So it’s an everyday drama.
God Speed the Plow.