All photos by Simon Annand
This week, I attended the London production of Speed-the-Plow, David Mamet’s satirical take on the American movie business. The cast consists of Nigel Lindsay as Charlie Fox and a guy from The West Wing as Bobby Gould—two Hollywood execs trying to cut a deal on a script. Lindsay Lohan plays their meddlesome secretary, who—with an unclear motivation—seduces Gould and persuades him to pitch a different script altogether.
The play itself was unremarkable, but has been bitched about ceaselessly. Since the play’s first preview in the West End last week, the tabloids have obsessively reported on how Lohan needed line prompts. Critics have described her acting as that of "not an especially gifted schoolgirl," and audience members have dubbed the performance a “car crash”—a phrase that follows her around like the whiny sponsor from her reality TV show.
Only two days after the play’s first preview, the Wikipedia page for the play was amended, to include a note that “American actress Lindsay Lohan, […] was laughed at because she had forgotten her lines.” It's since been removed, but it's almost as if it must be duly written in history that Lohan has once again botched the job, once again sent her proverbial Porsche crashing into a brick wall of failure, drunk or high or whatever at the wheel.
Why does everyone take Lohan so seriously? Long profile pieces have questioned her art, pokerfaced in their tracing of her career from child stardom through to clichéd Oscar-less plight. Interviews have given over countless column inches to her trademark AA jargon. “I'm at a point when I want a diligent routine and I really want to get back into work,” she told Time Out. “Yes, I’ve made mistakes. But who doesn’t in life?” she told the Telegraph_, _echoing her previous admission: “I really haven’t done [cocaine] more than ten or 15 times. I’ve done it like ten or 15 times.”
Through all of this, the suspicion has rankled that Lohan might be having us on, that she might not be taking this all quite as seriously as we are, that there might be a bigger meta-fictional conspiracy at play. The only way I can make Lohan’s life make sense in my own head is to think of it as The Truman Show in reverse; I am certain that—like Kanye—she is supremely fucking with us all. That she has woven a myth of herself into the public consciousness that is impossible to unpick.
For Lohan, life imitates art, and her performance in Speed-the-Plow comes as close to the bone as any role yet. Most of the comedy comes from Gould’s attempts to sleaze on Lohan, and we, her doting audience, laugh along, complicit. The first act opens in Gould’s office, where he tells Lohan’s character, Karen, about The Bridge, the script he is about to give the green light. “Is it a good film?" she asks him, naively. "It's a commodity," he replies, as though explaining to Lohan her own place within film history. He talks about how the entertainment is about getting asses on seats, the exploitation of basic human epistemology: “If a tree fell in a forest would anyone hear it?” he says.
Would anyone give a fuck about this play if Lohan wasn’t in it? Lohan’s face is on the program and on the posters at the Playhouse and in the papers. The whole thing’s been a publicity coup. The Guardian ran a "Mean Girls or David Mamet" name-the-quote quiz, for God’s sake. The play’s plot has been entirely eclipsed by the narrative of Lohan’s attempted McConnaissance, her search for legitimacy. “I wanted to do something different,” she told Time Out, “people have certain perceptions of me, and I wanted to change them by doing something like a Mamet play. I’m hoping it’ll take away attention from me as a celebrity name and draw attention to the fact that I’m an actress.”
It's a telling quote. Lohan's life seems to lack any kind of fluid narrative, instead resembling more of a chain of unrelated, ludicrous events: community service at the morgue, a sleepover with Lady Gaga and Lana Del Rey at the Chateau Marmont, a 36-name list of her sexual conquests left in a bar, a tweet that she’s pregnant on April Fools’ Day. Charlie Sheen and Mel Gibson—men who have been considered mad by the world in the span of recent history–have said they’re worried about her. Only Lohan can purportedly sleep with Calum Best and that guy from The Wanted, pose for photos holding a gun to her head, hit someone with her car and flee the scene, and then pick herself up and dust herself off, ready to fuck things up all over again.
We focus on the car crash, but Lohan’s more concerned about the joy ride. “I’ve lived so many lives in one lifetime,” said an ever-self reflexive Lohan, who—despite the highs and lows—is always trying to reinvent herself, before failing and falling back into the same leather-jacketed Lohan again. We give her infinite second chances because we feel sorry for her—she’s been in a slump since Mean Girls—and now she’s the enfant terrible of Hollywood, battling her demons with David Letterman as her father figure and Oprah as her surrogate mother.
You can’t write this shit. How can this be anything other than a modern celebrity farce? Consider the layers of irony in which Lohan shrouds herself. It was surely ironic when she played Elizabeth Taylor, in the TV movie Liz and Dick, an actress hunted by the press. It was ironic when she played Tara in The Canyons, a desperate, sex-crazed ex-actress. And now, in Speed-the-Plow, she plays Karen, a character once again bearing an uncanny resemblance to the real Lohan—a young receptionist caught up in the Hollywood machine with nothing to bank on except her sexuality.
In the flesh, the play is lukewarm. The set looks like an SNL version of Frasier, and Lohan seems fundamentally unnatural, reciting her lines with intonation in all of the wrong places. The New York Times lauded Madonna, who previously played the part in 1988, as, “the axis on which the play turns—an enigma within an enigma.” The calculating role of Karen ought to be powerfully seductive. Instead, Lohan oscillates between wooden and mawkish. And yes, she does forget her lines, but when someone shouts to her from the side of the stage, no one in the audience seems surprised. In the intermission, the audience gossips about her, her voice, what it means to see this strange Hollywood specter in the flesh.
After the third act unravels, at a faster pace than the last, the curtain finally falls and the room fills with applause. Lohan appears on stage detonating a confetti bomb under which she showers herself. No one makes a move to take their things and leave. Everyone is transfixed on her. She is the ultimate figure in the cult of celebrity. And everything she does, all her farcical behavior, all her strangely self-referential and self-prophesizing roles, fuel this fire. While her performance as Karen failed to suspend my disbelief for more than three minutes, she ironically succeeded in lending more mystery and confusion to the real Lohan, whatever the hell that is.
In her next role, Lohan will reportedly be starring in a biopic where she plays Clara Bow, a Hollywood actress from the 1920s who began her career when young and eventually lost her mind, supposedly because her mother had once tried to kill her. The layers of irony thicken into LA fog. Soon Lohan will play herself playing herself playing on a TV show about a failed actress who meets Lohan at rehab. "I've always known things about myself," Lohan once told Oprah. I can only take this to mean that Lohan is complicit in her own bizarre actions. Like in Being John Malkovich, Lohan is the puppeteer of her own giant celebrity, and we are on the outside, believing it, writing about it, caring.
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