NEW YORK — Well, there's an upside to Jeremy Piven's highly publicized departure last month from the Broadway revival of "Speed-the-Plow." David Mamet's scabrous comedy of Hollywood high jinks has gotten even better.
Piven's unexpected sushi-gate exit _ due to what his doctor said was mercury poisoning _ left the show's producers scrambling for a replacement. First up was Piven's understudy, Jordan Lage, then Norbert Leo Butz and now William H. Macy, a longtime Mamet actor whose relationship with the playwright goes back some three decades.
Macy's expertise with Mamet's quicksilver repartee shows. He's confident with the language, batting it back and forth with the skill of a tennis ace. The actor plays Bobby Gould, a movie studio executive who is being dangled a hot property, a surefire prison buddy picture.
Unlike Piven's portrait of Bobby, there's a world-weary side to Macy's performance. The actor is older that Piven, and the age difference works to his advantage. Brashness is tempered by experience, although Bobby still can go for the jugular when the need arises. Only he does it with more quiet authority.
Flamboyant ego-mania is reserved for the character of Charlie Fox, Gould's hyper sidekick, played by the astounding Raul Esparza. Both Esparza and Elisabeth Moss, who plays an office temp named Karen, have been with the production since it opened in October. They are superb.
Maybe it was the opportunity to play opposite a parade of actors, but the performers' timing and confidence seem even stronger now. Moss is particularly adept in the second of the 80-minute play's three scenes. In it, she persuades Bobby to make a worthy film based on a novel about the end of the world, written by one of those "Eastern sissy writers," which is how Bobby describes the author.
Karen is something of an enigma, and Moss doesn't give away any secrets as she, too, joins in the quest for power. It's a surprising performance that challenges the idea that Mamet doesn't write good roles for women.
And Esparza has become an even more potent force of nature, his physicality dominating the stage of the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. He prowls Bobby's sleek office as if he were a twitchy panther in need of serious medication. And the actor spits out Mamet's fabulously profane language with considerable zest as he banters, flatters and even threatens Bobby while the two men discuss the deal to make the prison film.
It's their energetic machinations that make this "Speed-the-Plow" one of the highlights of the season. You have until Feb. 22 to catch the fun.