SPEED-THE-PLOW, Thirsty Theater, at the Pilsen Theatre. Actors trying to conquer David Mamet’s Speed-the-Plow–or just get through it adequately–have got to be exceedingly precise. Yet Mamet offers hardly a stage direction in this morality play about power and purity in the Hollywood film industry, and he packs his dialogue with sentence fragments and unfinished thoughts. Bringing the play to life requires the kind of finesse that intelligence officers use to break military codes.

Thirsty Theater’s production is lively and well paced (save for interminable scene changes), but its general lack of precision reduces Mamet’s potentially crystalline scenes to impressionistic sketches. Mitch Golob doesn’t so much direct the play as switch it on and let it run, leaving his cast to fend for themselves. As protagonist Bobby Gould, head of production at an unnamed movie studio, Doug Wynne is too hesitant and self-conscious to demonstrate more than a superficial understanding of his scenes. As the bombshell secretary Karen, whose well-disguised ambition nearly destroys Gould’s career, Sarah Romine strikes an intelligent balance between naivete and ruthlessness but never displays the kind of charisma that could bring a studio executive down.

Marc Jablon compensates for the production’s every weakness, however, as Gould’s ass-kissing underling, Charlie Fox. His hair-trigger performance, exploiting every nuance in the text, is both hilarious and harrowing. This guy’s got Mamet in his blood.

–Justin Hayford