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'Speed-the-Plow' breaks first ground at RLTP's new theater

In the first scene of "Speed-the-Plow," Bobby Gould has just been promoted to head of production at a Hollywood studio and is settling into a brand-new office. He is awash in the heady aroma of power and possibilities, and in this new show from Road Less Traveled Productions, the scene gets an added verisimilitude from the venue itself, the company's relocated and just-opened theater in the 400 block of Main Street. For both the theater and the play, the paint is fresh and the enthusiasm is palpable.

A packed house of fans and supporters gave the new space high marks on opening night. The show itself, which became the season opener after construction delays pushed the curtain back by a month, is basically solid but still had the earmarks of a work in progress. Blame moving pains and "Mamet Speak."

Although performers Matt Witten, Kevin Kennedy and Laura Barriere appear comfortable in their roles as self-centered Hollywood types, they remain more tentative with the timing of playwright David Mamet's notoriously repetitive and overlapping dialogue. Expect it to become smoother throughout the show's run. We had a good taste of what they can do in the play's climatic scene of angry confrontation, obviously one they focused on in rehearsals, for good reason.

Perhaps anger is easier to express than the casual chumminess Mamet captures so well in the opening scene, when Gould (Witten) gets a visit from his longtime pal and sometime business associate Charlie Fox (Kennedy). Because of Gould's promotion, Fox has turned from friend to supplicant, trying to sell Gould on a big-budget, high-concept, no-brain action picture with the hot director of the moment. The scene needs a little more macho one-upsmanship than we saw in the first performance, and we know from previous shows that these guys are capable of pulling that off.

That's how it works in Mamet's fast-talking, you-gotta-hear-this-pitch version of the movie business. Everybody who wants something frames it in the premise of doing you a favor before they grab for the prize. Sometimes the lure is disguised with money, sometimes the fish is reeled in with sex. Ask these guys what they think and for them all is fair, because they all know how the game is played.

That includes Karen, Gould's temp secretary who is filling in while his regular "girl" is away. Of the three, Barriere is most in sync with Mamet's rhythms, possibly because her Karen doesn't share the faux familiarity the two men are expected to have. She is careful to demur to them, not interrupting while nonetheless positioning herself for her big move.

No one is surprised when, in this pre#MeToo moment, that position is on a couch with Gould. Fox challenges Gould to go for it, Gould confidently agrees and Karen eventually confesses she is not the naive underling she was posing as when she arrived at Gould's door. She wants Gould to toss out the surefire action flick and instead to greenlight a film that dives into the meaning of life and its total annihilation.

The redeeming grace for this trio of dislikable people is the humor Mamet builds into their ambition. Fox and Gould are cartoonish in their money lust, and Karen is weirdly wide-eyed over what is referred to as "her radiation movie." At RLTP, the actors are at their best when they slip those laugh lines in. Mamet is a master of ridiculous self-centeredness, and his deft touch has the audience laughing aloud while his characters forge ahead, making the lines all the more sublime.

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Theater Review

"Speed-the-Plow"

2.5 stars

David Mamet's sharp and satiric critique of Hollywood, ringing true today, where Me Too and Me First are dominate times of American life. Playing through Nov. 18 at the new Road Less Traveled Theater, 456 Main St. Tickets are $38; students $22 ($5 on Student Thursdays); call 716-629-3069, or go online at roadlesstraveledproductions.org. 

 

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