The art of the biz

Is theatre art or entertainment? Craft or business? The industry behind the stories we see performed before us - whether on screen or stage - is a consistent theme of venerable playwright and screenwriter David Mamet.

Is theatre art or entertainment?

Craft or business?

The industry behind the stories we see performed before us – whether on screen or stage – is a consistent theme of venerable playwright and screenwriter David Mamet.

Mamet won a Pulitzer Prize in 1984 for his play, Glengarry, Glen Ross that pulls on the moral sinew of the business world.

And he received Oscar nominations for his script of 1997’s Wag the Dog, a De Niro-Hoffman piece on the power Hollywood can play.

Between the two works, Mamet wrote Speed the Plow.

In 1988, the moviemaking satire debuted on Broadway with Madonna on the bill – not for the score, but for the only female lead.

Her weak performance in the three-character triangle ruined the play in many peoples’ eyes and it is believed that it didn’t receive a legitimate review until it was revived in 2009 with Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss and Entourage’s Jeremy Piven.

Similar to both actors’ hit television shows, Speed the Plow zooms in on making the deal that leads to a product: in this case, a movie.

But this play asks the audience to go beyond money – to consider whether producing art can leave people satisfied and intellectually fulfilled.

The Whitehorse Theatre Ensemble – Aaron Nelken, Jessica Hickman and Eric Epstein – are shouldering the acting duties.

And to do so, they must tackle Mamet-speak.

In theatre circles and schools, Mamet is a lesson in himself; a revolutionary of the language and direction that scripts can possess.

And while it may seem easier for actors to have no other way to say things but to follow the precise direction given from the script, Hickman says at times it was like interpreting code.

“You have to honour all the punctuation,” she says. “You’re not just memorizing the words you’re memorizing how he wrote them on the page. So that’s been challenging.”

Director Sarah Rodgers has helped her through this learning curve, says Hickman.

The quick, witty flow, accented by unfinished thoughts became an obsession for Rodgers while she was studying Mamet in theatre school in her 20s, she says.

And while the award-winning director has much experience, including some in the territory with Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf, this is Rodgers’ first time directing a full-length Mamet piece.

“He’s such a male writer, I think it’s unusual to have a female director,” says Rodgers. “It’s a real boys’ club and there’s not even a lot of female roles in Mamet. This happens to be a play with one of the best female roles. She’s pivotal to the plot, turning these powerful men’s world upside down.”

In the play, Karen is a seemingly futile temp who brings her boss, Bobby Gould, a book, urging him to turn it into a movie.

At the same time, Gould’s good friend, Charlie Fox, promises to bring a big actor in the hope to do a movie. However, that production would be another flat, cookie-cutter film that makes loads of cash, despite its lack of substance.

For being the smallest role, it is surprisingly very complex, says Hickman of Karen, saying she and Rodgers both continue to pull back more and more of the character.

Is Karen honest? Or a manipulator? This is what Hickman has had to deal with in this role.

But for Rodgers, Karen represents integrity and passion; the good fight.

Charlie Fox isn’t the antithesis of that, said Epstein.

“This is a ‘buddy’ play,” says Epstein. “There are different moralities in the play, but the other thing that we’re looking at is a friendship. In the end, it’s kind of a love story between these two guys.”

This isn’t Epstein’s first time deciphering Mamet.

In 2002, he, and his Whitehorse Theatre Ensemble tackled American Buffalo, which is another look at the winding routes men run for money.

Unlike much of Mamet’s work, however, Speed the Plow has never been produced for mass consumption as a recording or film.

“I’ve never seen the show,” says Epstein “In a lot of ways that’s good to not have any external image for the character and just dive in and take it on and just discover it through the words Mamet’s put in his mouth.”

Neither Rodgers nor Epstein are concerned Whitehorse audiences can relate to the quick, cutthroat pace of Mamet and Speed the Plow’s invitation into the back doors of Hollywood.

“We all digest the products that come from there,” says Epstein. “Some of the great movies have been about making movies.

“This is a very funny play and it sweeps you along into another world.”

This is made even easier with help from heralded set designer Kevin McAllister, says Epstein.

The look of the play is minimalist, but meticulous.

But bringing in furniture has proven the most difficult challenge so far, says Rodgers.

The play opens just 20 days after the start of rehearsals and there is a couch that still hasn’t made it up here, says Epstein.

After two weeks of performances in Whitehorse, however, that furniture will follow the actors back south to North Vancouver where the play will run for another two weeks.

Without half of the audience made up of friends, the review of the work should be honest, says Hickman, adding the anonymity will be refreshing.

For all audiences, the actors hope it will be both art and entertainment. That it will both amuse and ask compelling questions.

“We can ask the question that Gould rhetorically asked: ‘Is there such a thing as a good movie nobody sees?’ Is there such a thing as a good play nobody sees? Well, in this case I hope people come see it,” Epstein says laughing, pointing out how hard it is not to fall into the Mamet-speak.

Speed the Plow opens at the Guild on Saturday and will run until January 29, with previews on January 13, 14 and 18. Tickets are available at Whitehorse Motors.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at

roxannes@yukon-news.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Team Togo member Katie Moen sits in a sled behind a snowmobile for the ride from the airport to Chief Zzeh Gittlit School. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Coming together: How Old Crow became one of the first communities in the world to be fully vaccinated

Team Togo and Team Balto assembled with a mission to not waste a single dose of vaccine

Main Street in Whitehorse on May 4. If council moves forward with bylaw changes, eating and drinking establishments could set up pop-up patios in on-street parking spaces. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Patios may be popping up in Whitehorse this summer

City considers program for downtown restaurants and bars

The Yukon Coroner's Service has confirmed the death of a skateboarder found injured on Hamilton Boulevard on May 2. Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News
Whitehorse man dies in skateboarding accident

Coroner urges the use of helmets, protective gear, while skateboarding.

The new Yukon Liberal caucus poses for a photo during the swearing-in ceremony held on May 3. (Yukon Government/Submitted)
Liberal cabinet sworn in at legislature before house resumes on May 11

Newly elected MLA Jeremy Harper has been nominated as speaker.

The Yukon Wildlife Preserve’s baby bison, born April 22, mingles with the herd on April 29. (John Tonin/Yukon News)
Yukon Wildlife Preserves welcomes two bison calves

A bison calf was the first 2021 baby born at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve

A map provided by the Yukon government shows the location of unpermitted logging leading to a $2,500 fine. (Courtesy/Yukon government)
Man fined $2,500 for felling trees near Beaver Creek

The incident was investigated by natural resource officers and brought to court.

The site of the Old Crow solar project photographed on Feb. 20. The Vuntut Gwitchin solar project was planned for completion last summer, but delays related to the COVID-19 pandemic pushed it back. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Old Crow is switching to solar

The first phase of the community’s solar array is already generating power.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
One new case of COVID-19 in the Yukon

Case number 82 is the territory’s only active case

Flood and fire risk and potential were discussed April 29. Yukoners were told to be prepared in the event of either a flood or a fire. Submitted Photo/B.C. Wildfire Service
Yukoners told to be prepared for floods and wildland fire season

Floods and fire personelle spoke to the current risks of both weather events in the coming months.

From left to right, Pascale Marceau and Eva Capozzola departed for Kluane National Park on April 12. The duo is the first all-woman expedition to summit Mt. Lucania. (Michael Schmidt/Icefield Discovery)
First all-woman team summits Mt. Lucania

“You have gifted us with a magical journey that we will forever treasure.”

Whitehorse City Hall (Yukon News file)
City news, briefly

Whitehorse goings-on for the week of April 26

The Yukon Department of Education in Whitehorse on Dec. 22, 2020. The department has announced new dates for the 2021/2022 school year. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
Yukon school dates set for 2021/22

The schedule shows classes starting on Aug. 23, 2021 for all Whitehorse schools and in some communities.

Most Read