Janesville’s Stage One opens season with ‘Speed-the-Plow’

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Wednesday, October 2, 2013

JANESVILLE—It's easy for Midwesterners to make fun of California.

With its absurd amount of sunshine, its tendency to reduce faith and culture to a loosey-goosey set of fashion trends and its predilection for building cities on fault lines, California is an easy target. And Hollywood—well, talk about creating entertainment for the lowest common denominator.

Stage One will present David Mamet's play “Speed-the-Plow” on two weekends in October, starting Thursday, Oct. 10. On the surface, the play is about the vagaries of the Hollywood movie industry. But look deeper, and you'll see a complicated—and often very funny—tale about selective morality that applies to us all.

The story: Bobby Gould is a recently promoted production head at a major movie studio. His associate, Charlie Fox, brings him a blockbuster-style script they both believe will make them loads of money. As the men talk excitedly about movie's possibilities, Gould's temporary secretary brings coffee. Fox bets Gould that he won't be able to seduce the secretary because she doesn't seem like the Hollywood type.

As part of his strategy, Gould gives the secretary, Karen, a book to read about radiation and invites her to meet with him later to discuss it.

The question of Gould's success as a seducer becomes secondary to the book, which, if made into a movie, could never be a commercial success. 

It's easy for Midwesterners to relax during the first act. This is a story line we understand: Self-involved Hollywood types pursue their morally rudderless lives. 

The second and third acts are unsettling because the plot doesn't follow its expected course. Audience members are gently nudged—and sometimes viciously jabbed—by Mamet's understanding of basic human character.

We believe that, when faced with challenging circumstances, we would do the right thing, take the moral high ground, make the important movie rather than the profitable one.We're Midwesterners, solid and sound.

Really?Well, I'd rather watch “Mr. Bean” re-runs than some grim documentary about radiation.

Nick French, a senior lecturer at UW-Rock County, is playing the role of Bobby Gould. French has acted in several local productions, including Stage One's production of “Rabbit Hole.”

For French, the challenge is to reveal all of Gould's humanity. To bring the audience back after intermission, French needs to show people something glimmering below Gould's bluster.

French sees the bantering between Fox and Gould as a kind of ironic mask or shell for both men. They're trying to express their gratitude, joy, excitement and anxiety, and this is the language Hollywood has given them.

 “On one level, the play is about language as a tool for acquiring power,” French said. “When things fall apart, language ends up hurting.”

Gould is a man torn between doing what's right and what's popular, and he also wants to be loved for himself, French said.

How ordinary is that?

French will be joined onstage by John Jajewski as Charlie Fox and Carrie Sweet as Karen.  

Sweet played the lead role in Stage One's production of “Proof.”  Jajewski has an extensive acting resume and has played a number of roles on Madison stages.

"Speed-the-Plow" is the first play to use the new black-box theater at the Janesville Performing Arts Center.

The space features a simple stage set up on the right side of the lobby, with glass doors separating it from the main lobby. With seating for 80 to 100 people, it will provide a more intimate experience for both audience and actors.

It also was designed to offer theater groups a less expensive space for rehearsals and performances.

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