‘Speed-the-Plow’ has message for Aspen | AspenTimes.com

‘Speed-the-Plow’ has message for Aspen

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Kent Reed, Jennica Lundin and Lee Sullivan, from left, star in the Hudson Reed Ensemble's production of David Mamet's "Speed-the-Plow," opening Friday, June 6 at Aspen High School's Black Box Theatre. (Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times)

ASPEN ” In places where money seems to be abundant, there is also a relentless pressure to cash in on what’s available. Often, this sets up a confrontation between the better side of humanity ” a quest for what is in the best interests of the community ” and selfish, single-minded greed.

“Speed-the-Plow,” David Mamet’s 1988 play about the clash between civic virtue and monetary gain, is set in a place where money often rules: Hollywood. The drama pits Charlie Fox, a slick producer pitching a prison/buddy blockbuster, against Karen, a secretary who is in favor of a more socially redeeming project. In between the two is Bobby Gould, the studio head who has the power to greenlight one film or the other.

Kent Reed, a local stage actor and director, believes the play serves well as a parable of life in Aspen.

“These guys are dealing with pure commercialism, the least common denominator in the motion picture industry. It doesn’t matter how you make the movie, or what impact it has on the community. It’s to make the most money you can,” said Reed, referring to the action in “Speed-the-Plow.” “We’re in the throes of a situation in Aspen. Here in Aspen we grapple with the same problems in a way. It’s keeping the scale and balance. There’s been an explosion in the development of commercial real estate, residential real estate. The Hollywood aspect and the local aspect are both trying to maintain a speck of integrity, or higher instincts, rather than just making money.”

Reed will get to see how such a message resonates with an Aspen audience. The Hudson Reed Ensemble, which he serves as artistic director, will present a production of “Speed-the-Plow” beginning tonight at Aspen High School’s Black Box Theatre. It plays through Sunday and returns next weekend, Friday through Sunday, June 13-15, with all shows at 7:30 p.m. The play is being directed by Charles Kouri, a Chicago-based director whom Reed met when he was living in Chicago in the mid-’90s.

Mamet’s three-character play ” which earned much attention for having Madonna, in her Broadway debut, create the original role of Karen ” is framed as a struggle for Bobby’s ear and soul. Charlie brings a sure hit, complete with a big-name star ready to appear in the film. He has already received Bobby’s promise to make the movie. But Karen, calling the prison film “a degradation of the human spirit,” has read a script for a more artful, uplifting, even spiritual film, and appeals to Bobby to devote his resources to it.

One thing Reed likes about Mamet ” who has addressed the artifice of Hollywood in two subsequent film projects, “Wag the Dog” and “State and Main” ” is that he doesn’t depict things along perfectly clear lines. Rarely are conflicts ever as black and white as they are portrayed in the letters to the editor section of the newspaper. Those seeming to do good might have less altruistic ends; plans that make bushels of money can help the overall economy.

“One of the intriguing parts of the play is, is Karen there to promote her own agenda, or to promote those larger ideals?” queried Reed. Reed also raised the issue of Bobby’s loyalty to Charlie.

In producing “Speed-the-Plow,” Reed has had other issues on his mind ” theatrical ones, to be specific. While casting the roles of Bobby and Charlie was easy ” Reed himself plays the former, with Hudson Reed regular Lee Sullivan in the part of the latter ” he nearly scrapped the project while searching for someone to play Karen.

“The biggest difficulty was finding younger actors in Aspen,” said Reed, who founded Theatre Aspen ” originally called Theatre Under the Jerome ” in 1983. “They’re few and far between.” He finally landed Jennica Lundin, a 26-year-old Aspenite who has had featured roles with Aspen Community Theatre and Carbondale’s Thunder River Theatre. “If Jennica hadn’t shown up, we wouldn’t have been able to do it. It’s not hard finding middle-age actors here, but the whole demographic has changed. Depending on the play, it’s a major obstacle.” (An interesting coincidence: Following Madonna’s run, an Aspen product, Felicity Huffman, took over the role of Karen on Broadway, and earned huge acclaim.)

By Reed’s estimation, this is the first appearance in Aspen of a Mamet play since Theatre Under the Jerome did “American Buffalo” in the ’80s. (In another coincidence, Thunder River Theatre was scheduled to present “American Buffalo” this month, but pulled the plug on the play.) “People haven’t had a real hard-hitting play like this since I left Aspen some years ago,” said Reed. “‘Speed-the-Plow’ is a good introduction to Mamet.”