Rogue chooses art
Fine cast elevates Mamet’s meditation on art vs. commerce
Chico, CA 95928
The fly-on-the-wall insight that Rogue Theatre’s current offering, Speed-the-Plow, reveals about what motivates movie-studio executives to take on new film projects stands as a profound metaphor of our own lives.
As stewards of this planet and supposedly its most intelligent species, we humans grapple daily with decisions based on financial considerations versus “the right thing to do.” Do we make life’s decisions based on their financial by-products or do we follow our hearts? It’s this thought-provoking premise, one that has us comparing the characters’ rationales with our own, that dominates Rogue’s production of this energetic David Mamet comedy-drama.
With direction from the esteemed Jerry Miller, local stage veteran/artistic director Joe Hilsee and New York playwright/visiting actor David Davalos (a duo that has worked together in the past in such local productions as Nixon Nixon, Richard III and the Davalos-written Daedalus) excelled on Friday (May 15) at the 1078 Gallery, bringing home the production with convincing, captivating performances.
Hilsee and Davalos offered excellent onstage chemistry, a pair of big-mouthed alpha males who seemed to be attempting to convince themselves of their own convictions as they alternately praised and insulted each other, and the little people of the world.
Hilsee was the perfect manic, money-hungry, freelance producer Charlie Fox, who, whether he was very happy or mad as hell, looked ready to pop a cork. He also provided plenty of laughs, blurting out several phrases repetitively with over-the-top zeal. Davalos, as studio decision-maker Bobby Gould, was great, combining consummate professionalism, mastery of the role and a clear, authoritative voice that reminded me of the Peterman character on Seinfeld.
As audience members, each with our own ethical notions, we looked on with interest as Gould pondered whether to make a violent prison film that promised to be a box-office blockbuster or promote an artsy script about a radioactive end of the world that likely held no financial promise.
Ashley Mauerhan, who’s appeared in several shows for Court Theatre and at the Blue Room, Theatre on the Ridge and Shakespeare in the Plaza over the past five years, was the balancing wild card in Speed-the-Plow. After an introduction that suggested her character would be limited to an “extra” role as a naïve, obedient coffee-bringer, Mauerhan came to the fore as Karen, holding her own with the more experienced male actors, with the depth, flirtatiousness and sophisticated idealism (none of which Gould could ignore) that was required of the role. As Gould and Karen began to communicate, we watched Gould begin to let down his money-hungry armor, but were left to wonder if his newfound virtuous convictions were based on his sense of right and wrong, or if the venom of Cupid’s Arrow was at work.
There were plenty of laughs here as well. Regarding the argument to follow the money rather than one’s convictions, Gould offered, “You can take good taste, shove it up your ass and fart the Carnival of Venice. Good taste has nothing to do with it.”
Following Karen’s declaration that she believed in the ideals of the artsy, end-of-the world script, Fox retorted, “I believe the Yellow Pages, but I wouldn’t film them.”
The trio carried out Mamet’s dialogue with little in the way of stage props, the script calling for Gould’s office, in the midst of a remodel, to have bare walls and only two chairs and a desk, which were covered with paint-drop cloths. It takes a fine cast to perform in front of a bare set and make it work by sole virtue of their spoken words, and this trio did so impressively.