Feature Q & A – Grant McGowen Explores Ruthless Hollywood

Grant McGowen of Atlanta's Pinch 'n' Ouch Theatre

Grant McGowen. Photo courtesy of Pinch 'n' Ouch Theatre

Pinch ‘n’ Ouch Theatre’s production of David Mamet’s Speed-the-Plow opens on April 6. Atlanta Theater Fans has had the opportunity to ask Artistic Director (and the show’s director) Grant McGowen a few questions about the play. He also discusses working with actor Jayson Smith, Pinch ‘n’ Ouch Theatre’s new venue, and when the theatre’s next season will be announced.

How would you describe the premise of Speed-the-Plow?

It’s about a business relationship between two big-budget Hollywood producers. Bobby Gould (Jayson Smith) has just been promoted to Executive Producer and on the first day of his new job, his long time friend and colleague Charlie Fox (Rob Mello) brings him a new script with a big named Hollywood actor attached (i.e. cash register sound). Bobby’s new responsibility is tested when he is forced to make a decision for the studio between producing either a sure-fire hit action film or an art-house film about the “decay of the world.”

The play has an interesting title; what does it refer to?

It came from the 14th century poem:

God spede the plow
And send us all corne enow
Our purpose for to mak
At crow of cok
Of the plwlete of Sygate
Be mery and glade
Wat Goodale this work mad

It sounds like something that should’ve been written in our constitution. Let us speed the plow so we can sell more crops, make more money, strengthen the economy, and call ourselves powerful. I’m not at all trying to sound facetious, but it’s just the way things are. When the economy collapsed, I think a lot of people thought that working harder and more hours would actually be the solution. Mamet compares Hollywood to cocaine and says that at times it can be addictive: working and making money. But where does happiness and doing good fall into play?

How were you first introduced to the play?

I was familiar with Mamet’s plays American Buffalo, Oleanna, Glengarry Glen Ross, and Sexual Perversity in Chicago. I was a fan of his dialogue—how it was fast paced, hilarious, thought provoking, and no bullshit. He’s not afraid to just tell it like it is, which is always refreshing.

I got to see Speed-the-Plow on Broadway in 2008, starring Jeremy Piven, Raul Esparza, and Elizabeth Moss. It was some of the best theater I’ve seen to date. I think it is because the play is honest, simple, full of life, and true. Jayson Smith tweeted a message to Jeremy Piven “I’m playing Gould in ATL. Any advice?”  Piven replied “Words will guide… stay present, Fall for the girl. Great play, trust.” I thought that was pretty cool.

Are there any particular challenges with directing this play?

The dialogue was something I knew was going to be a challenge. It almost has a certain song-like cadence to it that needs to move fast in order to keep the audience on the edge of their seats and from guessing the punch lines. I’m a stickler for truthful acting, so I didn’t want to overwork the dialogue and lose the spontaneity of the performance, but we definitely spent a fair amount of time just working lines and timing them just right.

I like to build the foundation of plays that I direct from the actors instincts. It has to come true from them. The heart of the actor is the heart of the “character.” Although Mamet would argue there is no such thing as “character,” and I would agree to some extent, I use the term to help understand the process and to differentiate reality from truth. Let’s face it. Sometimes actors have to learn a dialect or develop a walk that is foreign to them, and I think its safe to call that “character” work. But it’s always best to start from the unconscious work and trust in your instincts before layering the conscious work.

After performing in Body Awareness with Pinch ‘n’ Ouch Theatre, Jayson Smith returns in Speed-the-Plow. Did you have him in mind when planning the show?

I did have him in mind. I always try to make opportunities for great actors and good people. Jayson is a phenomenal actor. He’s a weird guy, very funny and easy to work with. He’ll randomly send me sound clips of some lines from the play that he’s recorded with an auto-tune application he downloaded on his iPhone that sounds half robot, half like Miley Cyrus. He can make you laugh, but ultimately he’s a hard worker. And he really takes the work seriously. He’s the perfect lead for this show, and I think he really holds his own among the many celebrities that played Bobby Gould (among them Jeremy Piven, Joe Mantega, William H. Macy, Norbert Leo Butz and Jeff Goldblum).

The Cast of Speed-the-Plow at Atlanta's Pinch 'n' Ouch Theatre

Jayson Smith, Jackie Costello and Rob Mello star in Speed-the-Plow. Photo by Bolis Cooper

Who plays the other roles in the show?

Robert Mello plays Charlie Fox. He’s a newcomer to Atlanta and just moved from Los Angeles and spent some time in Chicago. I always try to introduce new actors to the theater community if I have the chance. I knew Rob because he’s the only other legitimate Meisner acting teacher in Atlanta other than myself and received major browning points after bringing his classes to our past shows. He’s another incredible talent and has a powerhouse of emotional depth that most actors have to really work for. He’s also filling some pretty big shoes of a role that Raul Esparza was nominated for the Tony Award® for Best Actor in 2009.

Jackie Costello, playing Karen, is one of my acting students whom I’ve very proud of. She is incredibly hard working and is just now breaking out in her career as an actor. She spent some time away from acting but came back to it recently. She brings an emotional depth and truth to the role of Karen that I think is completely unique.

What should audiences expect when coming to see Speed-the-Plow?

Expect to see 90 minutes of exhilarating thoughts, truth and emotion. There are a lot of brilliant and hilarious lines. I should also warn, there is a fair amount of f-bombs in the show.

Speed-the-Plow is the first show to be performed in your new venue. How do you feel about it?

The new venue is perfect for us. I’ll admit it’s been a lot of hard work getting it to where it is now. I sometimes feel like I’m on one of those on-a-budget-TV-make-over shows, “make it work people!” But the payoff has been amazing. You’ll just have to come see for yourself. The address is 1085 Ponce De Leone Ave NE. There is free parking. The theater is in the Druid Hills Baptist Church on the corner of Ponce de Leone and Highland Avenue.

You brought Pinch ‘n’ Ouch Theatre to Atlanta in 2010. What aspect of the theater are you most proud of and what do you look forward to most in the future?

I’m proud that I haven’t quit—that I kept on through hard financial times and made it work on a shoestring budget. I’m proud that I took risks on shows that would be difficult to sell but artistically I believed in.

I look forward to growing our education department by offering more classes, and I’m also looking forward to creating more professional job opportunities for local stage artists. I look forward to getting lost in the moment again and again.

Will a new season be announced soon?

We are announcing what’s to come following the closing night performance of Speed-the-Plow on Sunday April 29 at Hard Rock Cafe (215 Peachtree Street Northeast, Atlanta, GA 30303). There will also be music, drinks and food. Use your ticket stub for free admission.


Speed-the-Plow by David Mamet runs April 6 to 29. For tickets visit http://www.pnotheatre.org/ or call 1-800-838-3066.