Speed The Plow is a somewhat calm and controlled satirical stab at the American movie business, at relationships and convenience, and at wanting to be a good person and yet always having to succumb in the end at the hands of money, money, money. As Bobby says in defeat: “I wanted to be good, but I became foolish”.
This is a play very much about its dialogue, with just three actors on a fairly barren stage and little else to distract its audience. The conversation flows between newly promoted head of production Bobby Gould (Damon Herriman), his colleague and now subordinate Charlie Fox (Lachy Hulme), and Bobby’s temporary secretary Karen (Rose Byrne).
The actual pace of the dialogue is fast with the characters often insisting on finishing the others thoughts and sentences. Opening with Bobby reading from an abstract novel, the discussion that follows is almost just as roundabout as the circles the novel talks of. Charlie has just brought Bobby a golden opportunity, but unbeknownst to them just yet Karen (potentially but not really ambitious Karen?) is going to throw a spanner in Bobby’s mind works. Her first prod – a stab if you will – “is it a good film?”
From there Karen continues the onslaught, insisting his “same old” films be “despicable”. She repeats that despite her naivety and freshness she “knows” what is right. Bobby presents her with the novel and suggests she herself do the courtesy read and present a report on it that night at his house. She does, and on continues her barrage of naïve “rightness” repeating passages from the novel and insisting on their abstract meanings.
The next day a seemingly changed Bobby has decided to push for the novel as his next picture, but he soon becomes nothing less than a chew toy, a tug-of-war between Charlie and Karen. He crumbles to the louder voice, his “chance to do something that is right” is lost- and onwards the great golden production wheel turns.
All three actors are well balanced in the spotlight, Herriman nailing the conflicted Bobby on the head with the right amount of unlikability and sympathy, Hulme is loud and holds Charlie’s dominant position in the flow of dialogue, and Byrne’s Karen creates an enigma amongst these men that the role calls for.
For me Mamet’s play itself is a bit of a take it or leave it – there’s meaning but the unchanged characters and the forced nature of the whole situation keep you hanging on for a big moment that doesn’t come. But then maybe Hollywood has just ruined me.
Observe the conversation at Speed The Plow, playing at the Roslyn Packer Theatre in Sydney until 17th December. For more information and to book visit www.sydneytheatre.com.au