One of the themes in David Mamet's plays, indeed one might say the predominant theme, is the nature of male bonding. It doesn t really matter what the milieu is the only important relationships are male ones and women are only useful for one thing (two if you count making the coffee). In this particular piece, the two men are Hollywood producers and the woman a secretary.
Though the language is tougher and the men harder, underneath it all, Mamet's is really the Men Behaving Badly philosophy, so how appropriate then that it's MBB star Neil Morrissey who takes one of the leads. Rather than playing the weaker of the two men, Morrissey is the junior executive who stumbles across a potential blockbuster and finds himself competing with a sexually-alluring temp, touting a post-apocalyptic Christian drama, for the attention of his studio's head of production.
Morrissey is very much cast against type in his portrayal of the ranting, chain-smoking, egotistical, money-obsessed, grasping Charlie Fox. But, while he takes a bit of time getting into his stride, he displays an impressive American accent and keeps the nastiness level going until the end. Gina Bellman meanwhile has the thankless task of filling the shoes of temptress Karen and spouting a fine line in religious mumbo-jumbo. This is not a part an actress can get much teeth into, but Bellman manages to convey an appropriate air of innocence throughout the play even when she's being manipulative.
By far the most impressive performance is Nathaniel Parker's Bob Gould, the head of production who's deterred from the straight and narrow; the straight and narrow here being the overwhelming desire to make money. He starts the play smug in the security of a recent promotion but is gradually tempted off-course by carnal lust.
Despite the strong performances, however, it's hard to understand why this play is being revived. (In this case, a startlingly quick revival - it was staged at the New Ambassadors in March, with Mark Gould, Patrick Marber and Kimberley Williams, under Peter Gill's direction while Rupert Goold directs the new cast at the Duke of York's.) There have been better portrayals of Hollywood greed and lack of principles, and although Speed the Plow is only 12 years old, it's already beginning to look a bit dated.
Still, the actors perform gamely and, for all the misogyny, Mamet has a fine ear for dialogue. Enjoy it for what it is.