OLD BUDDIES HAPPILY PUSHING THE `PLOW'.
Whatever else they make of the actors' work in David Mamet's ``Speed-the-Plow,'' audiences at the Geffen Playhouse should have no difficulty buying stars Jon Tenney and Greg Germann as compadres.
You've got two East Coast-trained stage actors who trod the boards in New York and ended up in L.A. when Hollywood beckoned. Tenney and Germann each married around the same time. Their children were born one week apart. They've known each other 20 years. They vacation together.
Get them in a room together, drop the line ``So, I hear you two go back a ways,'' and you can pretty much sit back for the next 10 minutes and let the tape recorder roll.
In the mid-1980s, both men served non-overlapping stints as understudies in Neil Simon's ``Biloxi Blues'' on Broadway. Five years later, Germann directed Tenney in David Marshall Grant's play ``Current Events'' at New York Stage and Film.
``He was perfect for the part of this maniacally egotistical actor,'' Germann says. ``I thought, `Who else but Jon Tenney would be good for that.'''
But the path that led Germann, 44, and Tenney, 45, to finally share the stage as Hollywood cronies in Mamet's three-character play took the kind of turn that a far less skilled playwright than Mamet (``Glengarry Glen Ross,'' ``American Buffalo'') would concoct.
``I hadn't been in touch with Jon since (I directed him in) that play,'' Germann says. ``Then about two years ago, I was going through something in my life, and out of the blue, I got an e-mail from Jon. When I think about this, I get emotional. I really do. It was the sweetest e-mail, and I saved it.''
``I woke up one morning around the holiday time, and for some reason, Greg was on my mind,'' returns Tenney, picking up the tale. ``I knew he was going through a hard time. I had been through a similar experience. So I shot him an e-mail saying, `Hey, I know the holiday season is rough, and for what it's worth, I'm thinking about you.''' The friendship took off from there.
Meanwhile, Germann had been tracking ``Speed-the-Plow'' since he read it shortly after the play's New York run. Upon learning ``Plow'' was scheduled to be part of Geffen's '06-'07 season, Germann secured a meeting with director Randall Arney, who also is the Geffen's artistic director.
Offered the part of hustling producer Charlie Fox, Germann suggested Tenney for the role of head of production Bobby Gould. ``Randy said, `He's not available,''' Germann says. ``I said: `Wait, I have a feeling he is. I'm going skiing with him next week.'''
Not only was Tenney available, he hadn't appeared in a play for more than two years and was looking for a stage production that wouldn't take him back to New York. The producers of the TNT show ``The Closer,'' on which Tenney plays Kyra Sedgwick's love interest, were accommodating, and Arney had his Gould. Alicia Silverstone, who Mamet directed in his ``Boston Marriage'' last season, rounds out the cast.
``He brought my name into the mix,'' Tenney says. ``I'm really beholden to Greg for reintroducing them to the idea. I'd been hungering to do a play and didn't know how to schedule it. It's in town. I'm here with my daughter. If it ever was going to work, it was going to work out here.''
Count Germann among the league of the contented as well.
``This is, like, down the street. It's a great theater. David Mamet is giving us some rewrites,'' Germann says. ``Alicia's doing it, Jon ... it's like so many things are complicated in my life, but this fits like a glove.''
The above words, by the way, are uttered without a trace of a barb or a whiff of irony. For Germann -- who played ultra-quirky attorney Richard Fish on ``Ally McBeal'' and currently stars in CBS' ``In Case of Emergency'' -- this is a rare feat.
The entire room -- Tenney included -- is his straight man. Tenney laughs off the digs as often as he keeps pace.
Tenney: I'm sure if you talked to some other actors who have carried huge movies, that's a giant responsibility, but ...
Germann: ``I've carried some big movie blockbusters. Last weekend, I was carrying a bunch of them. All the way.''
Tenney: ``... But it feels good.''
Germann: ``It's terrifying. Come on!''
Tenney: ``It's terrifying and great. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else.''
Germann: ``I would. The Bahamas.''
Fox and Gould, their ``Speed-the-Plow'' counterparts, have a history and a keenly honed style of banter as well. In the course of ``Speed-the-Plow,'' Fox brings a sure-fire action hit to newly promoted head of production, Gould. But Gould's loyalty is tested when he considers green-lighting a new-age novel championed by his comely temp, Karen (Silverstone), at the expense of Fox's project.
The play's 1988 Broadway production featured Joe Mantegna as Gould, Ron Silver (who won a Tony award) as Fox and -- in her Broadway debut -- Madonna as Karen. The play ran 279 performances. Neither Tenney nor Germann saw it.
Mamet, whose TV series ``The Unit'' is filmed in L.A., has attended several Geffen rehearsals and done some updating to make some of the references more current.
The play gets regular stagings, and Tenney and Germann figure it's ripe for a new wave of popularity.
``So the play was done in New York, and aside from the fact that Madonna was in it ... it was somewhat dismissed,'' Germann says. ``It was after `Glengarry,' several years after `American Buffalo.' Mamet writes this three-character play about guys in Hollywood, and Madonna's in it. I always felt this was as good or better than anything he's written in its simplicity.''
``It's just like a bullet,'' Tenney agrees. ``It's really spare. Lean, lean, lean.''
Evan Henerson, (818) 713-3651
Where: Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood.
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 4 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday; through March 25.
Tickets: $35 to $69. (310) 208-5454.
Longtime friends Jon Tenney, left, and Greg Germann star in David Mamet's ``Speed-the-Plow,'' at the Geffen Playhouse.
Evan Yee/Staff Photographer