Raves (mostly) for Jeremy Piven, ‘Speed-the-Plow’

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In 1988, all eyes were on the Broadway premiere of ‘Speed-the-Plow.’ The attention wasn’t so much about the play, a searing dissection of Hollywood studio dealmaking, or the playwright, David Mamet. The world was abuzz about a certain woman making her Broadway debut: Madonna.

Twenty years later, Madonna is still making news, Mamet is back on Broadway (with two offerings), and ‘Speed-the-Plow’ again features a much buzzed about star -- this time multi-Emmy-winner Jeremy Piven, a.k.a. Ari Gold, the foul-mouthed agent (and maybe soon-to-be studio chief?) on HBO’s ‘Entourage.’

The new production, staged by frequent Mamet director Neil Pepe, also features Elisabeth Moss of AMC’s ‘Mad Men’ and Broadway star Raul Esparza, last seen in ‘The Homecoming’ and robbed of a Tony Award for 2007’s ‘Company.’

So what did the critics have to say about the revival?

‘When the curtain falls on this short and unsparing study of sharks in the shallows of the movie industry, it’s as if you had stepped off a world-class roller coaster,’ writes Ben Brantley in the New York Times. ‘Mr. Piven has the pivotal role, and he executes it with uncanny grace and intelligence.’


David Rooney at Variety says, ‘David Mamet’s astringent observations on the supremacy of commerce over art in Hollywood are still as fresh as last night’s rushes.’ He also notes: ‘Piven’s tightly wound physicality and easy command of rapid-fire, hectoring dialogue make him a natural fit for Mamet.’

Peter Marks of the Washington Post calls ‘Speed-the-Plow’ a sleekly seductive production’ and says ‘the skills of Piven, Moss and Esparza are marshaled so stylishly that you must stop and salute the leadership of director Neil Pepe, who allows us to see plainly the relevance retained by this 20-year-old smack-down of showbiz cynicism.

Elysa Gardner of USA Today gives the ‘wickedly fine revival’ 3 out of 4 stars, saying Piven’s Bobby is softer-textured but also more disturbing than the showbiz animal he plays on ‘Entourage’; we see the anxiety and flickers of good intentions underlying his cool arrogance.

Michael Kuchwara of the Associated Press says the play ‘remains as hilariously nasty as ever.’ ‘To really explode, ‘Speed-The-Plow’ must star actors of equal intensity. With Piven and Esparza, this revival has found the perfect theatrically combustible pair.’

Joe Dziemianowicz of the New York Daily News says Esparza ‘gives a supercharged performance’; ‘Piven is an excellent foil’; and Moss ‘is a delightful blend of prettiness, naivete and ambiguity, all right for Karen, who may or may not be that innocent.’

Linda Winer of Newsday was less enthusiastic, saying: ‘Despite a cast that looks wonderful on paper, director Neil Pepe’s production is small, tight and more angry than fabulously, shamelessly, joyously rude. Piven, perhaps trying not to duplicate his sleaze-triumphant agent, Ari Gold, from ‘Entourage,’ plays Bobby Gould -- new production head of a studio -- with a soft underbelly that works against the surprise of his potential conversion to art movies.’

-- Lisa Fung

Top photo: Raul Esparza, Jeremy Piven and Elisabeth Moss in David Mamet’s ‘Speed-The-Plow.’