Madonna Panned and Mamet Praised for ‘Speed-the-Plow’

Times Theater Critic

Mamet--yes. Madonna--no. That was the critical reaction to “Speed-the-Plow” this week on Broadway.

David Mamet’s new play concerns a couple of wanna-be Hollywood producers and an office temp, played by Madonna, in her acting debut.

Frank Rich of the New York Times praised her “intelligent, scrupulously disciplined comic acting.” The other reviewers dismissed her performance, some rather cruelly. “Being vacant on the stage requires more effort than it does in real life,” observed Howard Kissell in the Daily News.

Mamet’s play was generally seen as a worthy successor to his study of the real-estate dodge, “Glengarry Glen Ross.”

“Absolutely on target, demolishing the egomaniacs who decide what reaches the silver screen,” wrote the AP’s Michael Kuchwara.


Joe Mantegna and Ron Silver play the egomaniacs. Everybody loved them.

“Chess” has been a bad-luck musical ever since Michael Bennett had to give up directing it in London. Trevor Nunn took over, and it has finally come to Broadway, to poor notices. David Richards’ review in the Washington Post was typical: “‘A grim ham-fisted endeavor that puts a serious dent in the popular belief that London is the crucible for all that is worthwhile in the musical theater.”

“Mail,” whose crucible was the Pasadena Playhouse, got even worse reviews than “Chess” when it opened on Broadway last month, but the producers are keeping it open. And last week somebody had a good word to say about it. “A small, merry, unpretentious musical,” wrote Edith Oliver in the New Yorker. “Most of the jokes pay off and the songs are refreshing.”

Theater was born in Greece, and seems to be dying there. Variety reports that the box office in Athens was way off this year, with 15 theaters halting operations in mid-season. The suspected villain: the VCR and home rented-films.

HOPEFUL QUOTE OF THE WEEK. Don Stolz, of Minneapolis’ Old Log Theater, in Variety: “If the critics don’t like a show, it takes longer for word of mouth to get started.”