STAGEnThe GreatnConnivancenby David KaufmannNearly 60 years have elapsed sincenJames Agate, the London theater critic,nquipped, “The English ceased to benplaygoers as soon as there was anythingnelse to go to.” On Broadway, the Americannsolution has been to guaranteenticket sales by casting celebrities. Thencause of Agate’s complaint, as well asnour Band-Aid solution, are bothnbrought to mind by Speed-the-Plow,nDavid Mamet’s first full-length playnsince his 1984 Pulitzer Prize winner.nGlengarry Glen Ross.nIf Hollywood is notorious for chewingnup even the finest writers, Speedthe-Plownis apparently Mamet’s revengenafter some recent forays in Hollywood.nThough the play has openednto generally rave reviews, it may be ancon of its own, relying on the presencenof Madonna to distract attention fromnweaknesses in the script.nAlthough Mamet has a dozen worksnto his credit, they tell essentially thensame story in a dozen differentncontexts — beyond that, each work,nhinging on some enigmatic twist at thenend, is never as satisfying as Mamet’snoverrated reputation suggests. Thenstreet-smart merchants in the AmericannBuffalo (still Mamet’s best play)nbecome the sleazy real-estate salesmennin Glengarry Glen Ross, who are bothninterchangeable with the fortune-tellernmedium in The Shawl (a one-act play).nEven the has-been lawyer portrayednby Paul Newman in The Verdictn(Mamet’s Academy Award winningnscript) is both the victim and perpetratornof some cons; and the psychologistnswindled by the elaborate schemenposed in House of Games, Mamet’snlatest film, ultimately outfoxes thengamblers who duped her.nThough the metaphorical sign onnVITAL SIGNSnthe office door of Speed-the-Plow hasnbeen changed to read “HollywoodnProducer,” Mamet’s newest offering isnnothing more than Mamet revisited. Itnis the story of two Hollywood producers,nBobby Gould (Joe Mantegna),nwho has just been promoted to head ofnproduction after 20 years in the business,nand Charlie Fox (Ron Silver), hisnsidekick. As Bobby explains it, “Mynjob, my new job is one thing — thencapacity to make decisions,” and thenplot circumscribes his 24-hour dilemmanover which of two script ideas tonendorse: a surefire moneymaker or annart film.nIf Speed-the-Plow depended solelynon the stereotypes it exploits, it wouldnpirove even less worthwhile than it is.nMamet’s real theme here is yet angrander cliche concerning the issue ofnart versus commerce. At first, Bobbyngives the arty novel by an East Coastnsissy writer to Karen (Madonna), hisntemporary ofiBce secretary, as a ploy tonget her to his house later that night.nThe last thing he expects is that shenwill convince him to do “somethingnright” with his life by filming it.nThe problem and unintended ironynwith Mamet’s premise is that this novel,nwhich each of the three charactersnfrequently reads aloud from, doesn’tnsound like the artistic work that his plotnrequires. Despite Mamet’s intent, itnsounds like another apocalyptic fictionnby Stephen King — exactly the sort ofnproperty any money-hungry producernwould seize.nBut even if the novel came across asnfine literature, Mamet fails to justify itsnfunction within the play’s structure.nAlthough Karen persuades Bobby tonsupport the novel, rather than Charlie’snmore commercial “package,” shenseems to do so offstage, during thenintermission. Mamet’s real play here isnthe one he never wrote. Mamet’s connis in the surprise reversals in Bobby’sndecision in the last act, much toonincredible to have the desired impact.nAs for Karen’s character, is she anJoe Mantegna and Madonna in a scene from David Mamet’s Speed-the-Plow.nPhoto by Brigitte Lacombe.nnnAUGUST 1988 / 49n