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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Exploring the nature of profanity and poetry in Speed-the-Plow

Rehearsals for the Mitch and Murray Productions presentation of Speed-the-Plow are nearing an end in a dusty space hidden deep inside an old building off east Hastings. We caught up with Artistic Director and actor Aaron Craven and Director David McKay to discuss what it is about this David Mamet play that has such enduring appeal.

[pullquote]“Mamet is often misunderstood as a misogynist for the kinds of dialogue he writes for his male characters, but it’s actually the male characters that are the weak, and the indecisive, and the paranoid, and the desperate.” – Aaron Craven[/pullquote]“I think this one is unique in how funny it is”, says McKay. “It’s really rooted in human behaviour and the machinations we commit to in order to support our beliefs. For the audience, it’s watching people put into situations that are uncomfortable, like the British [television show] The Office. We get kind of squeamish but also a delight in the pressure put upon the characters.”

“Yeah, as a snapshot, the premise of the play is very simple” agrees Craven. “Two producers are going to make a very commercial movie and a woman who works in the office introduces the idea of doing an artistic piece, and it follows the battle that ensues. The plot is very simple, but I can’t think of any other writers other than Mamet that are able to, with text, explore the nature of profanity and poetry at the same time. The Mamet-speak thing, I don’t think there’s anybody that writes quite like him.”

Going a bit deeper, Craven and McKay agree that public perception of Mamet’s work doesn’t quite line up with what they’ve found in the text.

“Mamet is often misunderstood as a misogynist for the kinds of dialogue he writes for his male characters” says Craven, “but it’s actually the male characters that are the weak, and the indecisive, and the paranoid, and the desperate. He strips bare the male ego and really explores it in his work. And that’s a layer that if you take it out of context and look at a few lines you’d say, ‘oh that’s terribly misogynistic the things that character says’, but if you look at the greater context, most of the men are operating from a place of deep, deep, fear.”

“It is a satire of the male ego,” says McKay. “There’s mansplaining, and there’s all the things that we’re now more aware of. I would agree with Aaron, it’s actually a funny exploration of what men do as opposed to praising their behaviour or that that’s the law of the jungle.”

Speed-the-Plow is also a play that explores multiple dichotomies: man versus woman and art versus commerce.

“The world we’ve built is, unfortunately, hugely based on commerce,” explains McKay. “And in order to reverse that it will require sacrifice. And it’s the same with art. Hollywood is a multi-billion dollar industry and for all the movies we enjoy, it is a business.

“And it’s become more corporate than ever before,” says Craven. “This play was written twenty years ago but what he’s written has only become more true. You see these guys who make creative decisions but they’re under the thumb of financial and risk-management teams and that’s only gotten worse in every industry. I think you feel that corporate takeover. You sense that outside character – the need to be safe and make safe decisions that appeal to the masses. It’s ahead of its time, actually.”

“Is it art or is it commerce?” agrees McKay. “Do we want movies that really tackle life’s issues as art? That truly make us ponder the condition of our being? Or do we just need distraction and things that take us away from life?”

Craven and McKay cite Mamet’s ability to capture reality as it is as their primary reason for choosing to do the play.

“It fits well for us because we tend to do plays that are contemporary and character driven, usually involving characters that are very morally grey,” says Craven. “So in the plays we tend to do there’s a shifting moral territory and the audience is pinballing around, not sure where they stand on any of the characters. It’s not really my taste as an artistic director to do theatre that preaches or glamorizes its protagonist. I prefer dramas where the lines are not so clean. Where you see fully flawed and fully committed human beings going to war on stage. To me, that’s the most interesting.”

“I think there’s a challenge and a reward with that system and it’s the nature of these plays that there are no easy answers” says McKay. “That’s closer to modern life than pursuing things with the objective of a good heart. I think that it’s hard to get by these days without making moral sacrifices or even at the level or personal integrity.”

With the success of their previous Mamet production Race in 2012, Speed-the-Plow has some large critical shoes to fill, but both McKay and Craven are confident that their production will have audience hooked right to the very end.

“I think it’s going to be funnier than people think Mamet should be,” smiles McKay.

“It’s going to be an intellectual/emotional roller-coaster ride,” says Craven. “But if you’re doing Mamet the right way, then you get the audience hanging on the text and they just stay with the story telling right to the end.”

Speed-the-Plow plays Studio 16 (1555 West 7th Ave) November 13-20.  Visit for tickets and information.

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