Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
AIRDATE: SEPTEMBER 25, 2009
It’s a dog-eat dog world — whether you’re in Tinseltown or the family living room. Two dark comedies, written decades apart, have an awful lot in common: they both present fascinating but somewhat underdeveloped characters displaying extremes of emotional volatility. Both concern addictive and competitive behaviors: whether the single-minded pursuit is about power, money, love, alcohol … or your brother’s girlfriend. Both are kinda guy plays, with a woman being the catalyst for change, and not in a particularly good way. And oh yes, neither is the strongest work of a highly regarded playwright.
David Mamet wrote his Hollywood-skewering “Speed-the-Plow” in 1988, when he’d already had a good deal of experience as a screenwriter. You might think he was biting the hand that fed him, but he kept going back to the trough, writing even bigger movie-biz satires, like “Wag the Dog.”
In “Speed-the-Plow,” we meet energetic, hyperkinetic Bobby Gould, who’s just been made head of production at a movie studio. His long-time lackey and sometime friend – if there are any such things in Hollywood – has a potential blockbuster to pitch, an action pic with a big-name star attached. Of course, he wants to be billed as co-producer. Everyone wants a piece of Bobby. Even his temp secretary, who becomes the focus of a sex-oriented bet – and a serious wedge between the two ruthless men. Not to mention provoking a contemplation of the merits of art vs. commerce. Gobs of Mamet’s signature verbal hyperactivity here, and dollops of his snarky humor. Under the direction of Glenn Paris, the three-person ion theatre cast totally nails the tone and tempo, though some scenes work better than others. Overall, though, it’s quick, it’s slick and like so many Mamet plays, it’ll make your skin crawl, morally speaking.
Same could be said for “Things We Want,” the 2007 creation of Jonathan Marc Sherman, who was declared a wunderkind in the early 1990s, and then dropped out for a decade to become a full-fledged alcoholic. Plenty of that on hand in his long-awaited theatrical return, where three brothers have slumped back into the family apartment in which both their parents committed suicide. There are lots of laughs in this bleak world of 20-something boozers and losers, but the ending could sure use a double shot. After a terrific emotional buildup, and a spectacular sex scene in the second act, the play loses steam in the final moments, without really concluding satisfactorily. But the dialogue crackles in the New Village Arts production, and the cast is superb, under the expert direction of Lisa Berger .
It’s obvious that summer is over. Those frothy comedies and musicals are a thing of the past. It’s time to sink your teeth into some dark, comical bile.
The ion theatre production of “Speed-the-Plow ” runs through September 26 at Sushi Performance and Visual Art in downtown San Diego .
“Things We Want ” continues through October 11 at New Village Arts theatre in Carlsbad .
©2009 PAT LAUNER