Nobody ever chose to go to the theater to watch an actor be adequate. Sadly, “adequate” sums up Lindsay Lohan’s London stage debut in David Mamet’s “Speed-the-Plow.” The bad news, however, is that she’s not the problem. Director Lindsay Posner has badly miscast Richard Schiff as testosterone-fuelled movie exec Bobby. That decision forces Nigel Lindsay’s increasingly enraged producer Charlie to work too hard to drive the pace. A hot production can make this neatly twisty but minor Mamet feel major. At the end of Posner’s, you just think: “Huh.”
Pre-opening rumors focused on Lohan using a prop book for help with her lines and needing off-stage prompts, but on opening night she survived with just one of the latter. However, although she fits the bill as temporary secretary Karen (who may or may not be secretly on-the-make), she doesn’t yet know how to generate and share energy with other actors onstage. She dutifully expresses the intention of each line but there should be more to Karen than meets the eye. Because Lohan is unable to handle subtext, the character — and thus the drama — loses dimensions.
Following a bet over what’s in his trousers rather than what’s in his head, Bobby has pretended to do Karen a favor, inviting her to his apartment to hear what she thinks after being allowed to do a “courtesy” read of a novel that he and Charlie have written off as ludicrously portentous psychobabble. To his surprise, she sees huge movie potential in it.
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But for the stakes to rise as Mamet needs, Karen’s description of her vision of the movie has to sound winning. Alas, Lohan’s voice is so unvarying that the movie never sounds plausible, which diminishes tension and fatally undermines both Bobby’s behavior and the third-act plot twist.
Lohan is, understandably, headlining but Karen is merely the pivot. The real subject is the relentless and ultimately ruthless jockeying for position of the two men. They’ve kidded themselves that they’ve been friends for eleven years but the play reveals them to be fierce rivals with Charlie lusting after Bobby’s studio power. Schiff, however, appears to be almost a generation older which make him look paternal and unbalances this central relationship. Worse, as Schiff showed in his signature role as pensive Toby in “The West Wing,” his stock-in-trade is earnest and world-weary. He looks like a man at the end of his career and his tether, which is not the way the role is written and the strain of him powering up lickety-split dialogue really shows.
Lindsay’s ascent into towering rage is impressive but Posner’s pacing and balance is off, so the climax is never truly frightening. The recent London revival with Kevin Spacey, a man fuelled by rage, evenly matched against Jeff Goldblum, showed just how overwhelmingly fierce the final scene can be. The fact that that high-profile production was only five years ago rather undercuts Posner’s public denial that this staging is a case of stunt casting. A set of seriously lame local reviews have backed up the prosecution’s case.