I guess I've been asleep on the job. I knew that Theater Works had, at last, moved into its new, permanent digs at the Peoria Center for the Performing Arts (which I know! sounds like the punch line to some kind of joke but is really sort of swell, even if it does have a minuscule parking lot and a gigantic heat-magnet of a copper roof). And I did think it odd that this super-square troupe, which normally offers tried-and-true fare like She Loves Me or West Side Story, was presenting a rather wicked David Mamet play instead.
Huzzah. Besides a fab, new home base, Theater Works has added to its repertoire an ongoing relationship with Off-Center Productions, a new black-box company that promises "edgy, off-beat, underperformed and overlooked" material. They're off to a promising start with a sturdy production of Mamet's Speed-the-Plow that benefits from Rob Evans' solid direction and a pretty darn talented cast, too.
Speed-the-Plow has all the groovy earmarks of a David Mamet play: naughty laughs; a skewed morals lesson (in this case, concerning Hollywood's ongoing tug of war between art and commerce); misogynistic men and slightly dopey, slyly calculating women and, of course, all that oddly timed, rhythmic Mamet dialogue.
In this tale of troubled Tinseltown tyrants, Mamet brings us producer Bobby Gould (Bruce Laks), a newly minted studio executive with the power to "green light" scripts for production. He's meeting today with Charlie Fox (Richard Hardt), an old pal and an agent who's pitching a hot film project he wants Gould to produce. They're interrupted by Karen (Kristina Rogers), a naive office temp with no grasp of the peculiarities of the film industry. She starts out as the target of a smarmy, sexist wager but winds up persuading our anti-hero to abandon the trash Fox has pitched and consider instead a message picture about the perils of radiation.
Bobby Gould is barely out of our sight throughout, but Mamet's play tends to feature more effectively the other two characters in his script. I can offer no better praise of Laks' performance than to tell you that he walks off with the show. (To be fair, Laks has an advantage, having played the role 15 years ago in a different production.) Gould runs a gamut of emotion, raging at a colleague one minute, cooing at a prospective conquest the next, and Laks makes each moment utterly real.
There's also a great deal of truth in Kristina Rogers' Karen, a woman who may be a schemer or simply a naif who thinks she can change the world with her vision of "purity." I was less convinced by Hardt's oily film agent, although he did pull more opening-night laughs as the tragic clown Charlie Fox than the other two actors. Which is as ironic as David Mamet, who's more likely to be found writing a screenplay than a stage play these days, venting his spleen in this '80s anti-Hollywood comedy, or in my finding such a refreshingly daring show at a playhouse in Peoria.
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