Speed-the-Plow Study Guide


Speed-the-Plow by David Mamet

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 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 City 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 experiences related to it. Karen is only temporarily filling in 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 the 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." Uncorrupted 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 apocalyptic 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 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.

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