Speed-the-Plow is a play by David Mamet
David Mamet
David Alan Mamet is an American playwright, essayist, screenwriter and film director.Best known as a playwright, Mamet won a Pulitzer Prize and received a Tony nomination for Glengarry Glen Ross . He also received a Tony nomination for Speed-the-Plow . As a screenwriter, he received Oscar...

 which is a satirical dissection of the American movie business, a theme Mamet would revisit in his later films Wag the Dog
Wag the Dog
Wag the Dog is a 1997 black comedy film starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro, co-starring Anne Heche, Denis Leary and William H. Macy about a Washington spin doctor who, merely days before a presidential election, distracts the electorate from a sex scandal by hiring a Hollywood film producer...

(1997) and State and Main
State and Main
State and Main is a 2000 comedy film, written and directed by David Mamet and starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Rebecca Pidgeon, about the on-location production in Waterford, Vermont of a film called The Old Mill...


Jack Kroll
Jack Kroll
John Kroll – known as Jack Kroll – was an award-winning Newsweek drama and film critic. His career spanned 37 years – more than half the publication's existence.-Biography:...

 of Newsweek
Newsweek is an American weekly news magazine published in New York City. It is distributed throughout the United States and internationally. It is the second-largest news weekly magazine in the U.S., having trailed Time in circulation and advertising revenue for most of its existence...

described Speed-the-Plow as "another tone poem by our nation's foremost master of the language of moral epilepsy
Epilepsy is a common chronic neurological disorder characterized by seizures. These seizures are transient signs and/or symptoms of abnormal, excessive or hypersynchronous neuronal activity in the brain.About 50 million people worldwide have epilepsy, and nearly two out of every three new cases...


The play sets its context (not to be performed) with an epigram by William Makepeace Thackeray
William Makepeace Thackeray
William Makepeace Thackeray was an English novelist of the 19th century. He was famous for his satirical works, particularly Vanity Fair, a panoramic portrait of English society.-Biography:...

, from his novel Pendennis
Pendennis is a novel by the English author William Makepeace Thackeray. It is set in 19th century England, particularly in London. The main hero is a young English gentleman Arthur Pendennis who is born in the country and sets out for London to seek his place in life and society...

, contained in a frontispiece: It starts: "Which is the most reasonable, and does his duty best: he who stands aloof from the struggle of life, calmly contemplating it, or he who descends to the ground, and takes his part in the contest?" The character of Bobby Gould finds himself on both sides of this dilemma, and at times in the play he "stands aloof," and at other times he "takes part" in life's contest, with its moral strictures.

Act I

The play begins in the office of Bobby Gould, who has recently been promoted to head of production at a major Hollywood studio. His job is to find suitable scripts to bring to studio head Richard Ross to be made into big Hollywood movies. His longtime associate, Charlie Fox, has arrived with important news: movie star Doug Brown came to his house that morning interested in making a movie Fox had sent his way some time ago. Gould instantly knows to arrange a meeting with the studio head, wanting to deliver the news personally that such a big star who usually works with a different studio is keen to make a movie with them, which is sure to be a financial success.

Gould thanks Fox for bringing the project to him when he could have gone "Across the Street" to another studio. Fox says he is to loyal to Gould on account of the many years he has worked for him. Word comes back that the studio head is flying to New York for the day, so they will have to meet with him tomorrow, which could present a problem because Doug Brown wants an answer by 10 o'clock the next morning. Gould assures Fox that it will work out.

Fox is beside himself about the big break he has gotten, which could finally make him a player in Hollywood after years of toiling in obscurity. It could also make him rich. He requests coffee and Gould asks his secretary to get some. As they wait, Gould tells Fox about a book he has been asked to give a "courtesy read" to, meaning that it is not seriously being considered to be made into a film because the author is "An Eastern Sissy Writer." Gould's secretary, Karen, arrives with the coffee and the two men ebulliently chat with her about the movie business and their history together in it. Karen is only temporarily filling for Gould's regular secretary and is new to the ways of Hollywood. Gould asks her to make lunch reservations for them and she leaves.

After she's gone, Fox comments on Gould's attractive temporary secretary, teasing him about trying to seduce her. Fox thinks that Karen is neither a "floozy" nor an ambitious girl trying to sleep her way up the Hollywood ladder, so it would be hard for Gould to bed her. Gould thinks he can and the two make a five hundred dollar wager to that effect. Fox leaves, soon to be seeing Gould at their lunch appointment.

Karen returns to discuss the lunch reservation. Gould asks her to sit and begins to tell her about the movie business. He tells her about the book he has been giving a "courtesy read." Un-corrupted and naïve, she asks why he is so sure there is no hope for the book. Gould offers Karen a chance to take part in the process by reading the book and delivering to him her opinion of it him that night at his home. As she leaves, Gould asks her to tell Fox that "he owes me five hundred bucks."

Act II

That night at Gould's apartment, Karen delivers a glowing report on the book, a story about the effects of radiation. As he is seducing her, Gould speaks warmly toward her, offering to bring her under his wing at the studio. Karen says she wants to work on the film that this book is made into. Gould says that even if the book is good, it won't make a successful Hollywood movie. Karen admonishes him for simply perpetuating the standard Hollywood formula instead of taking a creative risk. When Gould protests, Karen says that she knows Gould invited her to his place in order to sleep with her and aggressively starts to seduce him into taking her to bed, and into pitching the Radiation book instead of the Doug Brown film.


The next morning Fox is back in Gould's office, excited about their upcoming meeting with the studio head. Gould surprises Fox with news that instead he is going to be pitching the Radiation book, without him. The passive Fox initially takes the news with good humor, but gradually becomes more and more aggressive. He chides Gould for preparing to throw both of their careers away by pushing a movie the studio will never agree to make. Gould says that he has been awake all night and feels the call to "do something which is right." Fox suspects that Gould spent the night with Karen and that is the reason for his delirium. Gould denies this, but an increasingly enraged Fox physically attacks him and continues his verbal assault until Gould tells him to go.

Fox agrees to leave, but only after he gets the chance to ask Karen a question. Karen enters and eventually admits to being intimate with Gould the night before. Gould and Karen continue to stand together as a team until Fox gets her to admit that she would not have slept with Gould had he not agreed to green light a movie based on the Radiation book. With this, her ambitious motives are revealed and Gould is in shock. She tries to hold on to the plans they had made, but Fox will not allow it, telling her to leave the studio lot and never come back. As she leaves, Fox throws the Radiation book out the door after her. The play ends with Gould straightened out and ready to pitch the Doug Brown film with Fox.

Origin and meaning of the title

The Secret Middle Ages (ISBN 0-7509-2685-6) by Malcolm Jones discusses the origin of the phrase "God Speed the Plow" in a celebration known as Plow Monday and a 14th century poem:
God spede the plow
And send us all corne enow
Our purpose for to mak
At crow of cok
Of the plwlete of Sygate
Be mery and glade
Wat Goodale this work mad

There is an 18th century English play by Thomas Morton
Thomas Morton (playwright)
Thomas Morton was an English playwright.-Life:Morton was born in the city of Durham. He was the son of John and Grace Morton of Whickham, County Durham. He went to London to study law at Lincoln's Inn, but abandoned his studies for playwriting. For much of his life, Thomas lived in Pangbourne in...

 called Speed-the-Plough, which gave the world the character of that arch-prude Mrs. Grundy.

In George Meredith
George Meredith
George Meredith, OM was an English novelist and poet of the Victorian era.- Life :Meredith was born in Portsmouth, England, a son and grandson of naval outfitters. His mother died when he was five. At the age of 14 he was sent to a Moravian School in Neuwied, Germany, where he remained for two...

's novel The Ordeal of Richard Feverel
The Ordeal of Richard Feverel
The Ordeal of Richard Feverel: A History of Father and Son is the earliest full-length novel by George Meredith; its subject is the inability of systems of education to control human passions...

, the young protagonist, running away from home, encounters two peasants discussing their experiences, the Tinker and Speed-the-Plow. Describing them to a relative, he says, "Next, there's a tinker and a ploughman, who think that God is always fighting with the Devil which shall command the kingdoms of the earth. The tinker's for God, and the ploughman--"

In an interview in The Chicago Tribune, Mamet explained the title as follows:


Speed-the-Plow premiered on Broadway
Broadway theatre
Broadway theatre, commonly called simply Broadway, refers to theatrical performances presented in one of the 40 professional theatres with 500 or more seats located in the Theatre District centered along Broadway, and in Lincoln Center, in Manhattan in New York City...

 at the Royale Theatre in a production by the Lincoln Center Theater, opening on May 3, 1988 and closing on Dec 31, 1988 after 279 performances. The cast featured Joe Mantegna
Joe Mantegna
Joseph Anthony "Joe" Mantegna, Jr. is an American actor, producer, writer,director, and voice actor. He is best known for his roles in box office hits such as Three Amigos , The Godfather Part III , Forget Paris , and Up Close & Personal...

 (Gould), Ron Silver
Ron Silver
Ronald Arthur "Ron" Silver was an American actor, director, producer, radio host and political activist.-Early life:...

 (Fox) and Madonna
Madonna (entertainer)
Madonna is an American singer-songwriter, actress and entrepreneur. Born in Bay City, Michigan, she moved to New York City in 1977 to pursue a career in modern dance. After performing in the music groups Breakfast Club and Emmy, she released her debut album in 1983...

 (Karen). The play was nominated for a Tony Award
Tony Award
The Antoinette Perry Award for Excellence in Theatre, more commonly known as a Tony Award, recognizes achievement in live Broadway theatre. The awards are presented by the American Theatre Wing and The Broadway League at an annual ceremony in New York City. The awards are given for Broadway...

 for Best Play and Best Direction of a Play (Gregory Mosher). Silver won a Tony Award for Best Actor (Play). It has since been produced countless times in regional theaters and schools across the country. A 2006 revival in Los Angeles featured Alicia Silverstone
Alicia Silverstone
Alicia Silverstone is an American actress, author, and former fashion model. She first came to widespread attention in music videos for Aerosmith, and is perhaps best known for her roles in Hollywood films such as Clueless and her portrayal of Batgirl in Batman & Robin .-Early life:Silverstone...

 as Karen.

In 2008 it played at London's Old Vic
Old Vic
The Old Vic is a theatre located just south-east of Waterloo Station in London on the corner of The Cut and Waterloo Road. Established in 1818 as the Royal Coburg Theatre, it was taken over by Emma Cons in 1880 when it was known formally as the Royal Victoria Hall. In 1898, a niece of Cons, Lilian...

 Theatre, starring artistic director Kevin Spacey
Kevin Spacey
Kevin Spacey, CBE is an American actor, director, screenwriter, producer, and crooner. He grew up in California, and began his career as a stage actor during the 1980s, before being cast in supporting roles in film and television...

 as Fox, Jeff Goldblum
Jeff Goldblum
Jeffrey Lynn "Jeff" Goldblum is an American actor. His career began in the mid-1970s and he has appeared in major box-office successes including The Fly, Jurassic Park and its sequel Jurassic Park: The Lost World, and Independence Day...

 as Gould, and Laura Michelle Kelly
Laura Michelle Kelly
Laura Michelle Kelly is an English actress and singer who achieved critical acclaim in the role of Mary Poppins in the musical of the same name.-Musical theatre:...

 as Karen.

The first Broadway revival of Speed-the-Plow, directed by Atlantic Theatre Company artistic director Neil Pepe, began previews at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre
Ethel Barrymore Theatre
The Ethel Barrymore Theatre is a legitimate Broadway theatre located at 243 West 47th Street in midtown-Manhattan, named for actress Ethel Barrymore....

 on October 3, 2008, with an opening on October 23 in a limited engagement, closing on February 22, 2009. The cast featured Jeremy Piven
Jeremy Piven
Jeremy Samuel Piven is an American film producer and actor best known for his role as Ari Gold in the television series Entourage for which he has won three Emmy Awards as well as several other nominations for Best Supporting Actor....

 as Bobby Gould, Raúl Esparza
Raúl Esparza
Raúl Eduardo Esparza is an American stage actor, singer, and voice artist noted for his award winning performances in Broadway shows...

 as Charlie Fox, and Elisabeth Moss
Elisabeth Moss
Elisabeth Singleton Moss is an American actor. Her notable roles include that of Zoey Bartlet, the third and youngest daughter of President Jed Bartlet, on the NBC television series The West Wing , and secretary turned copywriter Peggy Olson on the AMC original series Mad Men .-Early life and...

 as Karen. However, Piven left the production over medical issues on December 17. The role of Bobby was played by Norbert Leo Butz
Norbert Leo Butz
Norbert Leo Butz is an American actor best known for his work in Broadway theatre.-Personal life:Butz was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the son of Elaine and Norbert Butz...

 (from December 23 through January 11, 2009) and William H. Macy
William H. Macy
William Hall Macy, Jr. is an American actor and writer. He was nominated for an Academy Award for his role as Jerry Lundegaard in Fargo. He is also a teacher and director in theater, film and television. His film career has been built mostly on his appearances in small, independent films, though...

 (from January 13 through February 22, 2009).
Raul Esparza was nominated for the 2009 Tony Award
Tony Award
The Antoinette Perry Award for Excellence in Theatre, more commonly known as a Tony Award, recognizes achievement in live Broadway theatre. The awards are presented by the American Theatre Wing and The Broadway League at an annual ceremony in New York City. The awards are given for Broadway...

 for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play.

Reviews were positive.

2011, 24-26th November, a performance of Speed-The-Plow will take place at the Magdalene Cripps Theatre in Cambridge, by students of the University of Cambridge.

Related works

Bobby Gould's story is continued in Mamet's one act play Bobby Gould In Hell
Bobby Gould in Hell
Bobby Gould in Hell is a 1989 one-act play by American playwright David Mamet. The play concerns the character Bobby Gould from Mamet's 1988 play Speed-the-Plow and his time in Hell. Gould is subjected to questions from a devilish personage referred to in the cast list simply as "The Interrogator"...


Arthur Kopit's play Bone-the-Fish (later rewritten as Road to Nirvana) was written in response to Speed-the-Plow.

Granta is a literary magazine and publisher in the United Kingdom whose mission centers on its "belief in the power and urgency of the story, both in fiction and non-fiction, and the story’s supreme ability to describe, illuminate and make real." In 2007, The Observer stated, "In its blend of...

16 (1985) 167-173 includes Mamet's short story "The Bridge" which is the basis for the novel of the same name in the play.

External links

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