When girl power is just sex, the men win again
Georgina Brown reviews Peter Gill's production of David Mamet's Speed-the-plow in the Mail on Sunday, 19 March, 2000
There's a moment in Speed The Plow, David Mamet's comedy about the Hollywood movie-making machine, when the two producers are considering a screenplay of an unbelievably pretentious-sounding movie about radiation and the end of the world. 'You can't tell me in one sentence, they can't put it in the TV guide... Tell me the story.'
It sums up the business: movies are commodities, profit-making crowd-pleasers based on last year's formula, easily boiled down to a few words. (As the inimitable Dorothy Parker snapped: `The only "ism" Hollywood believes in is plagiarism.').
Mamet's 12-year-old play can't be summed up so simply. Here, a very sexy young woman prompts two executives to come to blows over a couple of screenplays; one's a routine prison-set rape-and-violence number, the other this terrible drivel about the end of the world. At one level the play is a satire on the corrupt values of Hollywood. At another, it's about a girl coming between two old buddies.
And, like all Mamet's work, it's about language and manipulation and all that entails — deception, bullying, tricking, trading. Mamet's characters are less about — what they do, than about what they say (and don't say) and how they say it.
The writing is dazzling, but it's the acting in Peter Gill's production which bowls you over. It's a thrill to see the playwright Patrick (Closer) Marber batting for the actors, and he's terrific, beginning rather lowkey, quiet and nervy and building steadily to a ferocious climax.
He's swarthy, crumpled and bull-like, the perfect physical complement to the silky-smooth, long, lean and bald Mark Strong. As the biddable, beddable temporary secretary, the stunning young American actress Kimberly Williams brilliantly manages the shifts from girly faux-naiveté, through knowing manoeuvres to shattered defeat.
That's the bit I don't like about this play — the men triumph, the girl gets screwed. There's really no contest.
At one point Mamet says that men's power comes from their work, women's from their sexuality. Like the pretentious film versus the formula violence, it's an unequal battle that Mamet presents as a fact.
I don't doubt that he believes it, but it makes for uneasy viewing. In both cases there are positive alternatives.
There is such a thing as good (artistically, morally) so girl-power can stem from something other than sex. It's a more complicated picture, but tackling such issues would have made for a more satisfying drama.
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