In six-plus years as CityBeat's theater geek, I've mentioned faulty acoustics one time, and then only briefly. For better or worse, sound travels OK in most San Diego houses. But I'm no audiologist. In case you missed it, I'm a theater geek. And I figure what you do with the words once they hit you upside your ears is up to you.
I necessarily have to revisit the noise element here, in a stronger context than before. The play in question, Ion Theatre Company's Speed-the-Plow, is by the great David Mamet, whose two-fisted dialogue is largely—nay, maddeningly—lost inside Sushi Performance & Visual Art's bulky venue. I know this play because I've read it and seen it elsewhere, but while I think Ion has captured Mamet's tell-it-like-it-is irreverence, I'm not persuaded I know that for sure. So many absolutely essential speeches slip, slide, slither and sink against bare concrete and metal, dropping onto everything but their targets. And amid Mamet's sparse wordcraft and the attentive ear it requires, Sushi's bargain-basement acoustics place this piece in a certain adverse light.
You can tell when Dave gets excited about his character progression—his brawny, meat-and-potatoes exchanges turn monosyllabic real fast. “Fuck you” and “I've been bad; I know what it is to be lost” are cases in point in this show. But even with such brevity, the playwright keeps his characters distinct in this look at rough-and-tumble Hollywood and the epiphanies that can affect multimillion-dollar decisions. Hard-ass movie producer Bobby Gould (Claudio Raygoza) digs Karen (Sara Beth Morgan), an office temp whose ambiguous naïveté leads to a one-night roll with Bobby. From there, Bobby faces a brush with self-inventory, to which he's singularly unaccustomed—but the shallow businessman in him wins out as his assistant Charlie Fox (Matt Scott) looks on.
Although this is good Mamet, it isn't vintage; the sequence of events is too pat for a morality play, and Karen's ambitions in the movie industry (if she indeed has any) aren't that well-defined. Even so, Scott's a joy as swaggering, pasty-faced Charlie. Director Glenn Paris has tapped Charlie's obsoleteness, and Scott takes him the rest of the way amid that smarmy smirk and lethal sneer.
I'm delighted Ion won't yield to the realities of its stability in the community (it's had to move 687 times since its founding in 2004, notably from a Mission Valley locale amid a political issue it felt strongly about). And I'm not discouraging your attendance; by any stripe, Mamet's an experience. But this time, the venue, not the personnel's effort, holds undue sway, and that's a shame. A riser, a portable baffle or two, more judicious configuration of the seats: A few innocuous touches might have refined the terrible ambience, creating a foundation for the excellence of which Ion is highly capable.
This review is based on the performance of Sept. 10. Speed-the-Plow runs through Sept. 26 at Sushi Performance & Visual Art, 390 11th Ave. Downtown. $10-$25. www.iontheatre.com. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. Would you like your online comment to be considered for publication in our print edition? Include your true full name and neighborhood of residence.