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The Mamet Repertory
THEATER REVIEW
by Jonathan Abarbanel
2010-09-29

This article shared 3882 times since Wed Sep 29, 2010
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Playwright: David Mamet. At: American Theater Company, 1909 W. Byron. Tickets: 773-409-4125; http//www.atcweb.org; $35-$50.Runs through: Oct. 24

David Mamet's plays mostly are simple in structure: few characters, linear plots and no subplots. Speed-the-Plow and Oleanna—the Mamet Repertory at American Theater Company—are true to form. Dating from 1988, Speed-the-Plow is a take-no-prisoners satire on Hollywood featuring two male producers and a female secretary. Oleanna, from 1992, has two characters, a male college professor and a female student.

The plays are vastly different, and yet not. Each runs about 75 minutes in three scenes, with a power shift between characters in Scene Two. Speed-the-Plow ( the title derives from an ancient wish for prosperity ) is a testosterone-driven, savage comedy about a woman who momentarily finds an alpha male's soft spot until his buddy—serving his own interests—rescues him. Oleanna ( the title is a 19th-century utopian reference ) examines academia and sexual politics, pitting a pretentious and self-absorbed professor against a student who's not as clueless as she seems at first. Her charges of harassment tank his tenure track.

In addition to sharing a three-scene structure, both plays have late-inning violent episodes, particularly explosive in the non-comedic Oleanna. More importantly, the cause of the violence is the same: a man fighting for his life—his professional life, his power and security—against a woman motivated by ambition, or ego, or payback, or—maybe—principle ( mix and match ) . The men are far more desperate than the women, wounded beasts who strike in fury.

Director Rick Snyder—an excellent actor-turned-excellent director—has put together three strong performers, especially Darrell W. Cox and Nicole Lowrance, who appear in both plays. Hair slicked back and oiled, Cox makes an imposing studio chief in Speed-the-Plow, a fast-talking Hollywood bull-shitter. In Oleanna, he mops out his hair, adds glasses and changes posture to create the younger, motor-mouthed prof who thinks his talk is important. Lowrance is the pretty Hollywood secretary and the younger student. She's the antagonist in both works, convincingly playing "dumb" in the early scenes, then reveling in the power exchange. Her Oleanna turn as a cruel, young fascist is scary. The reliably riveting Lance Baker plays the junior producer in Speed-the-Plow in a juicy take-charge performance as an ass-kisser sweating bullets.

The tension between the characters crackles. The stage violence is particularly well-done, a neat trick with audience on three sides. The only slow moments are in Scene Two of Speed-the-Plow. It's intended to be slower than the two scenes that sandwich it, but the staging is too static, with Cox and Lowrance barely moving from their chairs. This means you'll see only Cox's back or Lowrance's back all through the scene if you're sitting on the sides. Nonetheless, this is prime Mamet powerfully done.

Jack McGaw's scenic concept is stylish but simple, a boxing ring for Speed-the-Plow defined by a square light strip inlaid in the platform stage. For Oleanna, the light bar is covered with a wood floor, in a typical teacher's office. Janice Pytel's costumes for Speed-the-Plow don't seem quite expensive enough for Hollywood moguls Hollywood given to Armani and Zegna suits, but the Oleanna rags are perfection.


This article shared 3882 times since Wed Sep 29, 2010
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