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New company eager to take on Mamet, other difficult works; they'll do 'Speed-the-Plow' Nov. 30-Dec. 23 at Shoebox Theatre

COURTESY: DICK TRTEK - In Asylum Theatre's first production, 'Speed-the-Plow,' Danny Bruno as Charlie Fox (left) and Briana Ratterman as Karen (right) try to convince ?Jason Maniccia as Bobby Gould to produce the play they want him to do.?The new Asylum Theatre company is dedicated to bringing a distinctive voice to both new and published plays that connect, challenge, inspire and entertain, says artistic director Jason Maniccia.

"Asylum" has two significant connotations for Maniccia: It can mean a safe place or refuge, but it also can mean a place that contains abnormality.

"As artists and storytellers, we go to extremes. The audience comes in and allows us these fantasies. But we are safe, because it's just our imaginations," he says.

For Asylum Theatre's first production, Maniccia chose David Mamet's "Speed-the-Plow," because "theater lives at the intersection of art and entertainment and that is exactly what (the play) is about."

"Speed-the-Plow" opens Nov. 30 at the Shoebox Theatre.

The play revolves around newly promoted movie producer Bobby Gould, who receives a sure-fire film project from longtime partner Charlie Fox.

"The movie has it all: action, buddies, a girl — and guaranteed fame and fortune for them both," Maniccia says.

But when Gould's temporary secretary asks him to abandon that project and instead make an "artsy" film, the balance of power is upset and Fox's pending fortune, Gould's career, and the fate of the world are all thrown into jeopardy.

In this dark comedy, "Mamet's characters fight the battle between art and commerce. It's a story about the intense value and responsibility of storytelling itself, and the complications and compromises created by power struggles, loyalty, greed and sexual politics," Maniccia says.

"Speed-the-Plow" features Maniccia as Gould, Danny Bruno as Fox, and Briana Ratterman as Karen, the secretary.

Maniccia notes that Mamet chose the title for the play because he remembered seeing old plates and mugs emblazoned with the saying "Industry produces wealth, God speed the plow."

Mamet went on to say that the play was "about work and about the end of the world, so 'Speed-the-Plow' was perfect because not only did it mean work, it meant having to plow under and start over again."

Maniccia asked Don Alder to direct "Speed-the-Plow" because Alder had directed another Mamet work before and is familiar with the playwright's style and dialogue.

"Don directed 'Glengarry Glen Ross' and played Ricky Roma. When I saw Don's (production), I said, 'This guy gets it,'" Maniccia adds.

Mamet is among the best dramatic playwrights and all actors want to get their teeth into one of his roles, Alder says.

"The dialogue is so specific; it's a challenge. But when it's all put together, it's almost like a tap dance," he notes.

As he looks to the future, Maniccia says that "in Asylum's search for that confluence of art and entertainment, we don't seek 'easy' plays, and we're not planning on strictly family fare. Our work is intended for, and will be best appreciated by, mature audiences."

"Speed-the-Plow" is staged 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, Nov. 30-Dec. 23, at Shoebox Theatre, 2110 S.E. 10th Ave. Tickets: $25, www.asylumpdx.org.

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