The Play (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
Scene 1 of Speed-the-Plow opens with Bobby Gould in his new but as yet undecorated office, debunking the prose of a heavy-sounding book about radiation. His old friend and right-hand man Charlie Fox walks in unannounced. Gould, who has attained a new position at a Hollywood studio only two days before, continues mocking the book, aware that Fox will shortly let him know why he came. Fox asks Gould how close he is to his boss, the head man in Gould’s Hollywood studio, whose name is Ross.
When Gould tells Fox that he can approve (“greenlight”) a picture, Fox tells Gould that the actor Doug Brown is willing to “cross the street” to do a script that Fox has procured for him. Without answering, Gould tells his temporary secretary to get Ross on the telephone. At this point, the quality of the script is not mentioned. It is clear, however, that Doug Brown means money at the box office.
Fox acquaints Gould with the events leading to this lucky break. Only a few moments before Fox entered Gould’s office, Doug Brown drove to Fox’s house and said that he would settle the deal the next morning at ten. Gould tells his temporary secretary to hold all calls except those from Ross; then he asks her to fetch coffee.
Gould and Fox learn that Ross will see them in ten minutes, during which time Fox briefly describes the plot of the script, using the jargon of the film industry: The film is “a buddy film, a prison film,...
(The entire section is 1184 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Dramatic Devices (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
Much has been written about the nature of Mamet’s dialogue, his special ear for the dialogue of the street with its short, often foul, staccato one-liners. Mamet often has his characters subvert important truths by muttering clichéd truisms. Moreover, in Speed-the-Plow Fox and Gould take shortcuts in their speech, speaking in a kind of shorthand that is native to their situation but strange to the uninitiated. Karen’s attempt to become an insider cannot succeed because she misuses the argot. Her attempt to become a part of the team, to penetrate the insider’s world, is seen by Gould and Fox as a hostile take-over bid.
Further, Karen’s unsuccessful explication of people’s fears forces the observation that what people most fear cannot be intelligibly expressed. Unable to communicate their feelings, the characters use words which are not the right signifiers; their words mask their feelings even to themselves. Mamet’s specialized and lean dialogue is enhanced by stage gestures that demonstrate the relationship between the power holder and the power seeker: Critic Brent Staples notes, “While Gould telephones the head of the studio to arrange for Fox to go before the altar of power, Fox pantomimes pretending to perform fellatio on him. Elsewhere he trails Gould across the stage, burying his face in his buttocks.” At one point Gould starts smoking a cigarette while he is already smoking his cigar; the gesture indicates the frantic...
(The entire section is 346 words.)
Like much of the 1980s, American society in 1988 was consumed with the ideas of success and image, the bigger the better. By 1988, there were 1.3 million millionaires living in the United States. This number included 50 billionaires. (By comparison, when adjusting for inflation, there were only 180,000 millionaires in the United States in 1972.) Because of an economy that saw vast growth during the 1970s, at least on the upper end of the economic scale, many people wanted to display their newfound wealth with high-end status items. Both Bobby Gould and Charlie Fox in Speed-the-Plow discuss how much money they will make off their deal and what it will get them. During this discussion, Gould says, ‘‘We’re going to have to hire someone just to figure out the things we want to buy.’’ Such greed was typical of the media-enforced images of wealth and success in the 1980s. Television shows celebrated the wealthy lifestyle. One popular televison show, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, showed how celebrities and other rich people spent their money and lived their lives. Pop singer/actress/ cultural icon Madonna, who played Karen in the original Broadway production of Speed-the- Plow, was a master at manipulating the media and toying with her image while making a big profit.
The attitude that bigger is better spilled over into the arts and mass media. On Broadway, largescale musicals featured more elaborate sets and large casts. In the...
(The entire section is 535 words.)
Speed-the-Plow is a drama set in contemporary times. Though it is not explicitly stated, the play probably takes place in Los Angeles, the movie industry capital of the world, at a major studio. The action is focused in two settings. Scenes 1 and 3 take place in Bobby Gould’s new office. Because he has just been promoted to the head of production, the office is sparsely furnished with ‘‘boxes and painting materials all around,’’ as the stage directions indicate. The brief Scene 2, where Gould and Karen meet to discuss her report on the novel, is set in Gould’s home. It can be speculated that everything takes place in Gould’s spaces because he is the man who ultimately makes the decisions. Charlie Fox and Karen are at his mercy, and they must try to influence him on his turf.
Karen nearly succeeds in getting her project off the ground because she is invited into Gould’s private life. Fox uses the fact that this is a business deal—and the fact that Karen used sex to further her own ambitions—to his advantage in Scene 3. The office is where business is done, not at home. The spare sets also put Mamet’s rapid-fire, though ultimately simple, dialogue at the forefront of Speedthe- Plow.
Several times in Speed-the-Plow, Mamet plays with lines that foreshadow future events in the play. However, the predicted events do not always work out exactly as...
(The entire section is 549 words.)
Topics for Further Study
Research the history behind the phrase ‘‘speed the plow.’’ How is the phrase’s meaning related to the themes of Mamet’s play?
Compare and contrast Speed-the-Plow’s Karen to Carol, the young female student in Mamet’s Oleanna. Both claim to be naive young women, yet both are dishonest about themselves. Explore the psychological implications.
Explore the idea of ‘‘the culture of success,’’ a predominant cultural force in the United States in the 1980s, especially in Hollywood. How does this cultural concept affect the actions of each of the characters in the play?
(The entire section is 120 words.)
What Do I Read Next?
Glengarry Glen Ross, a play that Mamet wrote in 1977, is a drama which also concerns men and their relationships in the business world. The play shows the lengths men will go to achieve success.
The Last Mogul: Lew Wasserman, a biography written by Dennis MacDougal, discusses the life of a Hollywood executive. The book includes insights into Hollywood business relationships.
Circus of Ambition: The Culture of Wealth and Power in the Eighties, a nonfiction book by John Taylor published in 1998, is a collection of essays discussing the rich and the culture of success, including Hollywood.
Oleanna, a play by David Mamet first produced in 1992, is a drama which concerns Carol, a young female university student who, like Karen in Speed-the-Plow, is also an enigma. The play focuses on a sexual harassment charge she brings against a male professor.
(The entire section is 160 words.)
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Sources for Further Study
Bigsby, C. W. E. David Mamet. London: Methuen, 1985.
Carroll, Dennis. David Mamet. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1987.
Friedman, Samuel G. “The Gritty Eloquence of David Mamet.” New York Times Magazine, April 21, 1985, 32-38.
Hubert-Liebler, Pascale. “Dominance and Anguish: The Teacher-Student Relationship in the Plays of David Mamet.” Modern Drama 31 (December, 1988): 557-570.
Kane, Leslie, ed. David Mamet: A Casebook. New York: Garland, 1991.
Lieberson, Jonathan. “The Prophet of Broadway.” New York Review of Books, July 21, 1988, 3-5.
Radavich, David. “Man Among Men: David Mamet’s Homosocial Order.” In Fictions of Masculinity: Crossing Cultures, Crossing Sexualities, edited by Peter F. Murphy. New York: New York University Press, 1994.
Savran, David. “David Mamet.” In In Their Own Words: Contemporary American Playwrights. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1988.
Staples, Brent. “Mamet’s House of Word Games.” New York Times, May 29, 1988, sec. 2, p. 1.
(The entire section is 138 words.)
Bibliography and Further Reading
Brustein, Robert. Review of Speed-the-Plow in the New Republic, June 6, 1988, p. 29.
Henry, William A. III. ‘‘Madonna Comes to Broadway’’ in Time, May 16, 1988, pp. 98-99.
Hodgson, Moira. Review of Speed-the-Plow in the Nation, June 18, 1988, pp. 874-75.
Kroll, Jack. ‘‘The Terrors of Tinseltown’’ in Newsweek, in May 16, 1988, pp. 82-83.
Mamet, David. Speed-the-Plow, Grove Press, 1987.
Rich, Frank. ‘‘‘Plow’ and ‘Butterfly’: New Leads, New Light’’ in the New York Times, September 23, 1988, p. C3.
Simon, John. Review of Speed-the-Plow in New York, October 3, 1988, p. 79.
Simon, John. ‘‘Word Power’’ in New York, May 16, 1988, p. 106.
Dean, Anne. David Mamet: Language as Dramatic Action, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1990. This book discusses the role of language in Mamet’s plays.
Lahr, John. ‘‘Profile: Fortress Mamet’’ in the New Yorker, November 17, 1997, pp., 70-82. This biographical article gives a sweeping synopsis of Mamet’s life and work.
London, Todd. ‘‘Mamet vs. Mamet: He’s Playwright, Director, Theorist—and His Own Worst Enemy’’ in American Theatre, July-August, 1996, p. 18. This article...
(The entire section is 238 words.)