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A CurtainUp Review
Glengarry Glen Ross
Unlike some directors bent less on reviving a classic play than on reinterpreting it with against-the-grain casting and other newfangled twists, Joe Mantello has contented himself with putting together an outstanding ensemble and seeing to it that they interpret Mamet's much imitated but hard to improve on dialogue with its unique cadence. And do they ever! Like the twelve terrific actors responsible for the many extensions of the Roundabout's Twelve Angry Men (my review), which felt like a revival but was actually the first stage version of a tele-drama, Glengarry Glen Ross is a triumph of top of the line ensemble acting. And so, while the office details are dated -- no cell phones or computers, grungy steel desks, deals made in a Chinese restaurant -- the cast and the play's sustaining power is such that the audience can make their own connection with counterparts in today's business world and the eager-to-win competitors on The Apprentice vying for their chance to be players in the rarefied real estate world overseen by Donald Trump.
Every man in the seven-member cast has always been crucial to the play's overall success, but it's the desperate Shelly Levene, a Mametian Willy Loman with an undefined special need for money for his daughter and the slick, hot shot Richard Roma who dominate the fast-moving two-act, four scene drama, and Alan Alda's Levene and Liev Schreiber's Roma are no exception. Good as Alda and the other actors are, this Roma is not just the star salesman but the most riveting presence on stage, from his mustache (especially grown for this part) to his carefully polished shoes. I've always liked Schreiber's work, but he has topped himself here. He's nasty, funny, explosive -- and has mastered not only Mametspeak but Mamet-in-Chicago.
For all the cussing that seems to go counter to any comparisons of the play to music or poetry, it plays very much like a finely orchestrated four part chamber concert. The first act consists of three segments, each for two players, with one dominating and the other providing the necessary less audible counterpoint: In the first scene, Shelly and John Williamson (a wonderfully understated performance) are seated at one of two tables in the Chinese restaurant, as Shelly campaigns for his share of prime leads, and Williamson shows his true colors). The next scene, moves to the second table at which another player is laying out a scheme that's doomed to failure. It's cooked up with comic panache by Dave Moss (Gordon Clapp) to ensnare George Aaronow (Jeffrey Tambour) as an unwilling partner. The third scene introduces Roma in action. He's at one table and a potential customer/victim (Tom Wopat) is at the other, but they're bound to come together before the intermission.
The intermission, which is needed for a change of scenery to the headquarters of the real estate company that's now messy as well as grungy after a burglary. This act brings all the players together, adding another "instrument " in the person of Jordan Lage as a grumpy detective. It is here that Schreiber's performance explodes to its compelling heights.
The production values match the quality of the performances. Both Santo Loquasto's Chinese restaurant and messy office ooze atmosphere, as does Kenneth Posner's lighting. Costumer Laura Bauer has made Schreiber's Roma a model of sartorial splendor.
The cast has already earned a Drama Desk outstanding ensemble award and as the awards season concludes it is sure to bring more awards in the various best revival, best actor, best director, set categories. Aside from any prizes, this production still satisfies our expectations of entertaining, meaningful theater. If you're squeamish about the excess of foul language, bear in mind that there's no one who cusses more creatively than David Mamet.
To read our Mamet backgrounder for more about David Mamet and links to other Mamet plays that we've reviewed go here.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide
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