Man of Hollywood eats own

At the end of the 1980s, penny loafers, Tone Lo¯c, Nintendo, Garbage Pail Kids, Strawberry Shortcake cartoons, Koosh balls and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ruled.

David Mamet, on the other hand, was busy writing “Speed-the-Plow.”

All but the play now belong to the distant past; Mamet’s Hollywood-style horror story of the movie business is still with us, opening in a splendid production at the American Conservatory Theater Wednesday night.

Mamet — with a dozen successful plays, some of them turned into “interesting” movies — lowers the boom on the greedy, nasty “whores” of Hollywood, mincing no words, giving no quarter to these wretched panderers to the worst in humanity.

Elements of truth? Certainly. Anything approaching the drama, humor, and relevance in “All About Eve” or “The Player” or many other insider films? Not at all.

Hollywood, Mamet says, offers cardboard figures and cheap thrills in order to make money. In “Speed-the-Plow,” Mamet offers cardboard figures and cheap thrills to make his case against the merchants of commercial crap. One wonders if those merchants would take an option on this simple-minded parable. (So far they haven’t, proving how nasty they are … and of good judgment.)

Still, under Loretta Greco’s direction, a brilliant cast of three makes the evening worthwhile, even as a few big names can make a stupid movie palatable. Tall, handsome Matthew Del Negro makes his A.C.T. debut as the newly promoted studio official with the power to greenlight scripts up to $30 million. (Making movies was cheap 20 years ago.)

The exceptional, home-grown (ACT Young Conservatory grad) actor Andrew Polk is the sniveling, conniving, eventually overpowering assistant, sweating and lurching through the 100-minute intermissionless play, rising above its banalities. Jessi Campbell is foxy and mysterious as the temp secretary, who becomes an agent of possible change (don’t hold your breath).

Here is the crux of the story and Mamet’s self-betrayal: The assistant is pitching a “buddy film, a prison film” with a popular director who is willing to switch to the studio; the new exec is giving a “courtesy reading” to a high-minded, asinine book about the world ending in radiation, people decaying at a faster rate than they would normally.

Which story to OK for production? The question is made more urgent and believable (caution: irony!) by the beauteous secretary’s sacrifice on behalf of the book about radiation.

Such are the limited choices before our heroes. We’ll stay clear of a spoiler here — no more of the plot, this much being sufficient to indicate the depth, so to speak, of this Hollywood “exposé.”

Everything unfolds well on G.W. Mercier’s fine sets, moved about speedily by the “ensemble” of Danny Wolohan and Yusef Lambert.

IF YOU GO

Speed-the-Plow

Where: American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. most Tuesdays through Saturdays; 2 p.m. most Wednesdays, Saturdays-Sundays; closes Feb. 3

Tickets: $17 to $82

Contact: (415) 749-2228 or www.act-sf.org

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

CalTrans settles lawsuit over homeless sweeps on state property

Settlement requires agency to give warning before taking property and assist with retrieval

Plan to relocate Bayview charter school meets with resistance

School district wants to move KIPP elementary to vacant Treasure Island school site

Black like Bey

SFMOMA showcases photographer Dawoud Bey’s beautiful, sociopolitical images

Musician shot by off-duty FBI agent on Haight Street speaks out

Man thought official was a ‘fake cop’

Newsom: California’s homelessness crisis ‘a disgrace’

Governor uses State of the State speech to call for new revenue to tackle problem

Most Read