‘Glengarry Glen Ross’ crackles at What A Do
SPRINGFIELD, Mich. – It is a brave regional theater that puts on a David Mamet play. While Mamet’s work is popular, I find that often the actors available to many a theatre trying to deliver on the playwright’s work just aren’t up to it. Happily, this is not the case with the current production of Glengarry Glen Ross at What A Do Theatre.
The 1984 play, which won the Pulitzer prize for drama, is about four do-anything-for-the-sale real estate agents who are battling each other, themselves, and time to scratch out a living selling questionable parcels of Florida land to suburban couples.
The play is known as an exceptional example of “Mamet-speak,” in which the characters speak in partial sentences, expletives and ranty, philosophical runs.
If there is a lead character among the four, it is probably Shelly (The Machine) Levene, a once prolific salesman who has been on an extended dry patch. He is desperate to makes some sales, in part because his daughter has an unspecific illness, and he is trying to support her. Levene is a tree that is creaking throughout the play before he gets ready to fall. Casting Jeff Steirle was an exceptional choice as he embodies the surly, faded, yet haughty Levene right down to his own real-life degenerative hip condition I found out about after the show, which gives him a weary, broken gait that is perfect for Levene and would be hard to get as right if an actor tried to act it.
Ricky Roma, played by James King II, is the most successful and oiliest of the salesmen in the office. His predatory working of would-be buyer James Linkg (Joe Dely) is the stuff of legend. The seduction. The domination.
George Aaranow (Bill Sutherland) and Moss (Betsy King) play off one another, with Moss actually playing Aranow just as she would a potential buyer she was trying to reel in with a hook in his mouth. That Rutherford’s Aaranow is way behind on the sales board is not surprising as he comes across as someone who should b selling brushes door-to-door rather than four-figure and five-figure land parcels. It is increasingly common to cast women in at least one of the roles, and King carries it off just fine. She’s a tough-as-gristle “broad” in a man’s environment. It is a good sign that Mamet has allowed the cross-gender casting, which has not always been the case. He famously shut down a production of Oleanna when he learned the director had cast a gay man in the part written for a college-aged young woman.
Ric Crow rounds out the cast as John Williamson, the much put-upon office manager who has to “marshal these miscreant salesmen every day. He gets called every name in the book by these salesmen while he protects the interests of the agency owners. Crow plays the part well, just as slimy really as his charges, but he has the upper hand; he has the good sales leads they all crave to get. Rachel Markillie plays “Baylen,” the police detective who comes to investigate the break in of the office.
As with many Mamet plays, the dialogue is so challenging that opening night can be a rough time. Indeed, at the beginning of the show, I wondered if this cast was really up to it. But in short order, they settled into the Mamet rhythms and all was well.
Besides playing Linkg, Dely also directs and did an excellent job from casting to opening night. The simple set, by Samantha Snow and Thomas Koehler (set dresser) is simple, but perfectly adequate for this play, which is utterly dependent on the actors to sell the reality of these desperate, moral challenged people. Act One is in a chinese restaurant/bar, the haunt of the office. Act Two is the real estate office, which has been broken into.
A warning to those who have seen the movie, but not the play. The now iconic scene from the movie with Alec Baldwin (“Coffee is for closers) is not actually in the play, but was rather written for the film.
The play is a tremendous piece of writing that should be experienced at least once by any mindful and curious theatre-goer. The language is not for the kids. But the story and script are for the ages.