PLAYBILL PICKS: The Five Greatest Plays About Hollywood

By Robert Simonson
10 May 2013

Jeremy Piven in the 2008 Broadway revival of Speed-the-Plow.
Photo by Brigitte Lacombe

SPEED-THE-PLOW: The most recent classic stage shellacking of Hollywood mores was this 1988 barnburner by David Mamet. Mamet was already a movie veteran at this point, having written screenplays for "The Verdict" and "The Untouchables," and directed his own screenplays for "House of Games" and "Things Change." He knew how things worked, and showed what he knew in this three-hander largely set in the office of new studio head Bobby Gould, as he wrangles over a possible action movie deal with friend and producer Charlie Fox. The fly in the ointment in this buddy drama is Karen, Bobby's idealistic and possibly conniving secretary. One critic described the plot as "Boy gets script; boy loses script; boy gets script back again." Comical cynicism, ambition and aggression are in ample display.

"I spent a few years after college temping at the studios and I've always appreciated the way this play turns on the influence of a temporary secretary," said Tolins. "When you work in Hollywood, you spend less time making movies than you do talking about making movies. Everything is determined by the outcome of those conversations—what movies get made, whose careers rise and fall. The pressure is maddening, and since there are no right answers, every county is heard from—even the temp—and that's something Mamet gets so deliciously, ferociously right."

"Speed-the-Plow is the one play" on this list, said Pepe, "that, in terms of the actual business of making movies with the system—the power plays and moral predicaments of getting a film made—that I felt really digs deeply into that questions of moral conscience vs. commercial conscience."

Honorable Mentions: Robert Cashill: "The flim-flammery is alive and well and funny as ever in Jon Robin Baitz’s Mizlansky/Zilinsky, or Schmucks, where bottom-feeding producers pursue one last scam with Oklahoma dentists as ex-wives, hangers-on, and the IRS provide complications." Rob Weinert-Kendt: "I'm intrigued by how Stones in His Pockets and Cripple of Inishmaan tell such contrasting and oddly complementary stories about a film production changing the lives of poor Irish folk." As for me, I've always had a liking for John Patrick Shaley's 1993 comedy Four Dogs and a Bone.