Theatre Review: ‘Speed-the-Plow’ at Road Less Traveled Theatre

The cast of “Speed-the-Plow” at Road Less Traveled Theatre.

Legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright said “A building is not just a place to be, but a way to be.”

Road Less Traveled Productions found its way by launching its 15th season  in a newly-built out theatre space (the first theatre to open on Main St.’s Theatre District in 20 years) with an outstanding production of David Mamet’s “Speed-the-Plow.”

. . .the production is a fine example of RLTP’s consistent good work. . .

“Speed-the-Plow” is a satirical send up to the movie industry and the eternal struggle between making money and creating meaningful art on screen. The frenetically-paced show answers the question in a lot of rapid dialogue that brings shallow values and relationships to new depths.

Bobby is the newly-appointed studio executive, and  Charlie is his 11-year colleague in the trenches who brings him a concept and a deal. As they prepare a pitch for the studio chief, they also wager on Bobby’s ability to bed Karen, his (temporary) secretary.

True to Mamet’s style, there’s plenty of snappy and sassy dialogue, peppered with F-bombs and other words not suitable for family-friendly websites. Site gags between the guys set up their own version of a buddy movie, too: that’s the point Charlie drives home. They are buddies, they are loyal, and they are in this together. Enter Karen the temp  who turns out to be more than the docile “broad” who can bring the coffee after all.

Matt Witten, Kevin Kennedy, and Laura Barriere are Bobby Gould, Charlie Fox, and Karen respectively, and this trio (directed by RLTP’s artistic director Scott Behrend) christened the new stage with energetic, spirited performances.

Witten and Kennedy have the buddy thing down pat: there’s plenty of name-calling, shoulder slugging, and expressions of manly devotion in this script (at least until things go south), and they play it well. Kennedy is a hoot as Charlie Fox. He’s jumpy and excitable – he stops short of being completely irritating – and he plays out that carefully masked envy for his pal’s success very well. Witten is one of the region’s most versatile actors, having just completed the title role in “Sweeney Todd” at Kavinoky Theatre to over-the-top reviews. His Bobby vacillates between feisty and confused with the trademark Mamet edginess. Witten has an affinity these slightly sleazy Mamet roles: last season he was the smooth-talking Ricky Roma is RLTP’s “Glengarry Glen Ross.” Barriere’s Karen is all cunning sweetness:   she owns her scenes, replete with girl-power resolve that’s ready to change the world…even when it can’t.

While the production is a fine example of RLTP’s consistent good work, the star of this show is the house itself. It needs some more work that will come with time and support, but the pride that Behrend and the RLTP ensemble has for this place is palpable.  It’s time: from humble beginnings in a movie theatre, to the past few years at the Forbes Theatre on Pearl St., RLTP has distinguished itself on stage and off. Its Playwright Residencies and Off-Book discussion series are two engaging examples of how Behrend et al extend the company’s value into the community. Even the playbill, with its supplemental program notes specific to each production, is crafted with exceptional care. Personally, I love this supplement: it’s the theatre’s equivalent to Ed Yadzinski’s program notes in the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s program, combining history and insight to accompany the production.  It’s all good stuff.

Behrend was wise to follow RLTP board member Stephen McKinley Henderson’s advice to “be so good they can’t ignore you.” Bravo to Behrend and the RLTP ensemble making many bold and successful moves.

Running Time: 95 minutes, no intermission.

“Speed-the-Plow” runs through November 18, 2018 and is presented at Road Less Traveled Theatre. For more information, click here.