To say it has been esteemed playwright David “F’n” Mamet’s year on Broadway would be a vast understatement: the last time anybody had three separate plays on Broadway in the same year? Can’t remember. But it looks like his hot streak is coming to an end in a way that only he could’ve written.
November, a farce about a miserably bad presidency’s last days — starring Nathan Lane and Laurie Metcalf — made decent reviews and finished out its entire January-to-July run: for any Broadway show, an accomplishment. Not bad.
Come October, though, and there are two Mamet plays opening up within a month of each other. The first was late-October’s Speed-the-Plow, a star-studded revival (Entourage‘s Jeremy Piven, Mad Men‘s Elizabeth Moss) of Mamet’s 1988 three-hander concerning Hollywood executives and the assistant who drives a wedge between them (originally starring Madonna in her Broadway debut, and a Tony-winning Ron Silver). The show opened to stellar reviews that far exceeded the excitement over the original production, with the New York Times‘s make-or-break critic Ben Brantley writing that “(the show) lifts its audience into the ether.”
A little under a month later, American Buffalo — the more famed Mamet play about three amateur bank robbers, which has starred in various incarnations both William H. Macy and Al Pacino — opens up. Brantley, who also reviewed November and Speed-the-Plow, called the John Leguizamo-led revival (also starring Cedric The Entertainer and the non-dead-person-seeing Haley Joel Osment) “deflated.” Yesterday, the day after the show opened, the producers of Buffalo posted their closing notice, scheduling their last performance for Tuesday, November 23rd.
It gets worse. Speed was supposed to open in the Belasco Theater, which is east of Broadway. Theaters east of Broadway typically don’t succeed their West-of-Broadway brethren in regards to box office grosses. After the collapse of a Broadway-bound revival of Godspell, Speed picked up the Barrymore (where November had played), while Buffalo got stuck with the arguably-shittier Belasco. And in an industry that bleeds by the tickets it doesn’t sell, one could easily argue that the Mamet giveth, and the Mamet taketh away from his own play’s grosses.
Would opening the play farther away from his own plays’s opening dates have helped? No telling, now. We’d blame Buffalo’s stark failure to live on the most recent, harsher bumps of the economic downturns, but Speed-the-Plow continues to kill it at the box office.