Friday, November 14, 2008

Review: Speed the Plow

Raul Esparza and Jeremy Bliven. Photo by Brigitte Lacomb
Rolling Dialogue Flattens the Plot
By Lauren Yarger
Does it really take 90 minutes to figure out that people will take advantage of you and will stop at nothing to succeed? Not for most of us, but since playwright David Mamet needs some sort of basic plot around which to drive his signature rapid-fire, humor-filled, ping pong dialogue, getting to the top in the dog-eat-dog world of the Hollywood film industry serves the purpose in Speed the Plow at the Ethel Barrymore Theater. Add to this strong performances from the TV star power of Jeremy Piven (Entourage), Raul Esparza (Pushing Daisies) and Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men) and you have a popular, if not very deep play.

Piven plays Bobby Gould who somehow is unaware that his temporary secretary, Karen (Moss), sleeps with him just so he’ll green light her depressing and unlikely movie project about radiation ending the world. Gould’s longtime friend and producing colleague Charlie Fox (Esparza) sees through her and fights feelings of betrayal (his career-making project gets dumped in favor of Karen’s) to remain loyal and help his friend wake up to what’s happening. He easily gets Karen to reveal her motivation (why someone devious enough to use sex to get ahead would admit this is a mystery) and somehow that admission opens Gould’s eyes to the fact that everyone wants power and no one is immune. The two friends go back to making movies together leaving a bewildered Karen wondering how she blew it. Translation: we’re out of snappy dialogue; time to end the play.

Neil Pepe directs strong performances, however, with many of the funniest moments coming from movement – a dramatic throwing away of a script – or the intonation in a voice, as much as from the witty dialogue itself. Esparza shines as the caffeine-hyper, nicotine driven Fox who’s afraid to believe he might finally be on the brink of success. His rapport with Piven is easy and the dialogue bounces, although Piven does appear to get lost from time to time in the long and quick-paced banter. Moss is effective as the seemingly naïve, but manipulative Karen. Her presence, evoking memories of her role as Zoey, daughter of the underdog, come-from-behind Democratic president on The West Wing, along with lines about “mavericks” give the show a present-day feel despite having been written 20 years before the recent presidential election.

Scott Pask’s set turns (literally) from an office into Gould’s apartment, aided by a nice flickering movie projector effect (Brian MacDevitt).

“Speed the plow” comes from a phrase in a 15th century song wishing success and prosperity on hardworking farmers. It fits the play well, as the theme is about working hard, then plowing everything under and starting again. And that’s about as much plot as you’ll find while enjoying the banter.

Christians might also want to know:
• Language throughout
• Sexual gestures

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle. and the Episcopal Actors' Guild.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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