Friday, October 24, 2008

Were Critics Toasting Plow?

Were Critics Toasting Plow?

Last evening, director Neil Pepe's revival of David Mamet's 1988 play Speed-The-Plow opened at Broadway's Ethel Barrymore Theatre. Jeremy Piven, Raúl Esparza and Elisabeth Moss star in this first Rialto revival.

Critics offered middling to ecstatic reviews.

Roaring that "this new Speed-The-Plow is a must-see," in his four-star review, New York Post's Clive Barnes is rhapsodic: "[T]he beautifully played revival that opened last night establishes the play as a modern classic.... [I]t's Neil Pepe's smooth-as-silk direction and the play itself that hold the stage.... Piven ... finds the burnt-out hollows beneath an overpromoted hack executive, while the always amazing Esparza is the pushy underdog, all rapid-fire action and virtuosic language. Finally, there's the elegant Moss ... slithering through the play's undergrowth like a grass snake."

Proclaiming Mamet's observations "as fresh as last night's rushes," Variety's David Rooney mostly praises: "Speed-The-Plow remains on-target in its sardonic skewering of an industry run by self-confessed whores and driven by the public's appetite for mindless escapism. Despite a weak midsection, Neil Pepe's taut Broadway revival keeps the verbal sniper fire swift and scathing, while the three accomplished actors make the air between them crackle with tension.... Piven's tightly wound physicality and easy command of rapid-fire, hectoring dialogue make him a natural fit for Mamet.... The play is not top-tier Mamet.... But the comedy is pithy, smart and performed with prickly energy."

Asking rhertorically if "cynicism (is) supposed to be this energizing?" The New York Times' Ben Brantley seems euphoric from the ride: "What makes Speed-The-Plow so exciting is its power to define and destroy an entire self-contained world through the tools and weapons of spoken words, expertly wielded by a very live cast... Both satirical and sentimental about who and what they are, they turn conversation into a ritualistic art. Under Mr. Pepe’s juggernaut direction, Mr. Piven and Mr. Esparza invest that art with the souped-up, self-inflating rhythms of cokeheads... Mr. Piven has the pivotal role, and he executes it with uncanny grace and intelligence... Mr. Esparza finds many shades and textures -- of pride, humiliation, anger and resentment -- within that primal instinct."

Offering a "Harrumph for Hollywood," Joe Dziemianowicz of New York's Daily News gives the production three out of five stars: "[I]f this compact, 85-minute comedy isn't Mamet at his deepest, Neil Pepe's fine-tuned revival makes for an entertaining ride.... As Mamet thumbs his nose at Hollywood, he manages to make a case for each side of the debate in his witty script, even if passages from the book sound like the makings of a laughably dreary film.... Esparza ... a Broadway star who slips effortlessly between musicals and plays, gives a supercharged performance.... Piven is an excellent foil."

Noting that "the decent impulse is not rewarded here," Newsday's Linda Winer offers a mixed review: "Despite a cast that looks wonderful on paper, director Neil Pepe's production is small, tight and more angry than fabulously, shamelessly, joyously rude. Piven, perhaps trying not to duplicate his sleaze-triumphant agent, Ari Gold, from 'Entourage, plays Bobby Gould -- new production head of a studio -- with a soft underbelly that works against the surprise of his potential conversion to art movies.... Esparza delivers Mamet's motormouth, poetic scatology with a scowling intensity that overshadows the joy of Mamet's third-generation Jewish punch lines."

The limited run of Speed-The-Plow is currently slated to run through February 22, 2009.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

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At 28 October, 2008, Anonymous Ken Davenport said...

Thanks for the recap, Steve! We were thrilled to get the reviews.

At 29 October, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Ken, Thanks for visiting! Here's wishing you continued success.


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