Nov. 18 2009 12:00 AM

Icarus’ ’Plow’ gripping drama

Icarus Falling Theatre Ensemble has packed only what is needed for its trip back to Old Town and the Lansing theater scene: a few costumes, a terrific script, three talented actors and the sure hand of an experienced director. When they unpack these essentials and throw in a few pieces of furniture to serve as a set in the intimate space of 1210 Turner St., it’s show time, folks.

The script is “Speed-the-Plow,” the Tonynominated play by David Mamet; the actors are Markitwia Jackson, Allan I. Ross (a City Pulse contributor) and Amy Winchell; and the director is Icarus co-founder Jeff Croff. Together they deliver an explosive evening of theater, as they open the 2009-‘10 Icarus Falling season.

A satire of the American movie industry, “Speed” tells the story of Bobby Gould and Charlie Fox, two self-admitted “slaves to commerce” who have been trying to make it big in Hollywood for more than 20 years. They’re not friends — distrust and jealousy stand in the way of that — but as shark-tank survivors, they know each other well.

Into this relationship comes Karen, a temp secretary who upsets their fragile balance of power.

When the play opens, Gould has just been promoted to head of production of a major studio, and Fox is in his office, successfully persuading him to “green light” the making of a mindless prison-buddy movie with blockbuster potential. Also on Gould’s desk is a spiritual novel about the end of the world that has artistic merit. Gould lets Karen read the novel as a way to have sex with her, and she is enchanted by the story. Gould decides to film the novel, and Karen rewards him with a night of what we can only assume is spectacular lovemaking.

From that moment on, the play’s theme of the struggle between making art and making money races to a surprising climax. All three characters are driven by ambition and fear, and the actors make that unnervingly palpable for the audience.

Winchell, in her early 20s, brings a maturity and grace to the stage that are far beyond her years. She did so in last season’s “A Doll’s House,” and she does it again as the outwardly naïve Karen. This play also gives Winchell the chance to use her deft comic touch, and she gets the laughs she deserves.

Ross, as Fox, delivers a performance that shows how far he has come since his early days with Icarus Falling. He has turned into a fine actor. It’s also clear that he loves Mamet’s fragmented, powerful language, as he attacks the words with passion.

Jackson, as Gould, seems less comfortable with his character. He turns in a solid performance, but there’s a complexity to Gould that’s missing in Jackson’s interpretation.

The three-act play runs for 90 minutes without intermission, but it never feels like you’re sitting that long. This production reaches out, pulls you in and doesn’t let go.

‘Speed the Plow’

By David Mamet 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 20 1210 Turner St., Lansing (517) 898-1679