'Speed-the-Plow': slick and convincing


By now, David Mamet has chalked up considerable experience in Hollywood; he's even got a book out on film directing. But "Speed-the-Plow" dates from the playwright's period of discontent with Tinsel Town. And his discontent is reflected in every scurrilous word.

Though hardly Mr. Mamet's most artful script -- it has a hole in the plot big enough to sink Burbank, Calif. -- "Speed-the-Plow" is being performed with slick conviction by the three-member cast at the Spotlighters, where it is receiving its Baltimore debut.

The story concerns a recently promoted Hollywood production head who, on his first day on the job, is visited by an old friend bearing a deal that has all the earmarks of greatness. Hollywood greatness, that is.

In other words, the movie will star the country's biggest male box office attraction, and its subject can be summarized in one sentence, in a phrase even: prison-buddy film.

The confident executive and his hyper cohort spend most of the first act congratulating themselves on their wisdom and uttering profanity-strewn, monosyllabic paeans to friendship and loyalty.

Mark E. Campion, as the exec, and Tony Colavito, as his sidekick, have mastered the Mamet forked tongue so well that they ooze insincerity from every pore. Their attitudes make us realize we are watching a "buddy play" in which the emotions are as phony as those in the crassest prison-buddy film.

The supposed beacon of purity in this polluted atmosphere is the executive's temporary secretary. Motivated sheerly by innocence and candor, this young woman does her damnedest to persuade the executive to forgo the prison flick in favor of an arty, intellectual film about the end of the world.

But is she innocent and pure? Is anyone in Hollywood? As the secretary, Eileen Keenan, a theater major at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, slyly and skillfully shifts gears and keeps us guessing.

Director Steve Goldklang delivers a smooth production, except for two minor miscalculations. He maintains too languid a pace in the first half.

And when the action moves to the executive's home, Mr. Goldklang and the set designer, Jim Slivka, obscure some of the sightlines by bisecting the Spotlighters' small, arena stage with a bulky sofa.

But neither of these problems is as troublesome as the script's plot hole. To wit, why can't the executive simply make both movies?

A Hollywood executive would claim the answer is that then we wouldn't have a play. But David Mamet is supposed to be better than that.

"Speed-the-Plow" continues at the Spotlighters weekendthrough June 2; call 752-1225.

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