note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Carl A. Rossi
Shelley Levene…..Ken Baltin
John Williamson…..Neil A. Casey
Dave Moss…..Dale Place
George Aaronow…..Mark S. Cartier
Richard Roma…..Ted Reinstein
James Lingk….Derek Stearns
It IS possible to not care for a play and yet enjoy a production of it. Case in point: David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize-winning GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS – a play I’m not particularly fond of – has been given a thrilling new production at the Lyric Stage and I recommend that you make tracks to its box office at once, for a sterling ensemble of actors, under the whip-crack direction of Spiro Veloudos, inject blazing life into what is not so much a play but, rather, an Evening of Mouth – and they make it work.
To quote the Lyric’s own synopsis, Mr. Mamet’s play is about “small-time, cutthroat real estate salesman [sic] who cajole, connive, wheedle, wheel and deal while trying to grind out a living by pushing plots of land on reluctant buyers in a never-ending scramble for their fair share of the American dream.” True enough. Act One take place in a Chinese restaurant. At three separate tables sit the salesmen of Glengarry Glen Ross: Shelley “The Machine” Levine, once a great wheeler-dealer but now sliding fast, bribes John Williamson (who runs the office and doles out the ‘leads’) to help get him back up on the board. Dave Moss and George Aaronow grumble about having to work like dogs for downtown bosses Murray and Mitch, and they kick around Moss’ idea of stealing the leads from their own office and selling them to a rival. Richard Roma, the agency’s Top Dog, zeroes in on one James Lingk, a born sucker. In Act Two, the office has been broken into; its leads, stolen. Each salesman is questioned, Shelley makes a huge sale that turns out to be smoke, Lingk shows up to cancel his contract with Roma, along with other twists and turns before the burglar is run to earth. A busy morning, indeed, and as Roma says, he hasn’t had his coffee yet.
As I mentioned, I don’t care for Mr. Mamet’s play – all that clanking of male armor wearies me after awhile – but Mr. Mamet does have an ear for Mouth: Mouth as attack; as counter-attack; as bullshit; as affection. In fact, Mr. Mamet’s love of Mouth gets him in so deep that he flounders when it comes to a plotline: after a great Act One where the words bounce off the men in dazzling give-and-take, Act Two grinds down to a black-and-white drama from the Golden Age of Television – men circling around and around, snarling and swiping at each other (I don’t see how they can act like gladiators 24/7 – they’d have no energy left for their clients). Two moments in particular ring false: (1) Roma blows a fuse to find his desk has been broken into, the leads have been stolen, his recent dealings must be reclosed, and he now risks not getting the Cadillac that Murray and Mitch have promised to whoever is Top Dog on the board. The guy ain’t happy, folks. And yet Mr. Mamet has Roma sit at his burgled desk to chuckle and nod at length over Shelly’s monologue about his getting an elderly couple to sign a contract (an acting-class monologue if ever there was one); and (2) when Lingk realizes he has been Royally Screwed, the others form a silent tableau right out of Playhouse 90 – and we’re watching something in a theatre, after all, no matter how many “fucks” Mr. Mamet peppers his script with. (Yes, all those naughty words that George Carlin once warned us about are on full frontal display here – were they the play’s original selling point almost 20 years ago? – and it’s amazing how an audience of today can still ripple like a field of wheat when “fuck”, “shit”, “cunt”, etc. blow over their heads.)
And whose play is it, anyway?
Shelly’s? He’s gone after Act One, Scene One and doesn’t return until halfway through Act Two.
Roma’s? He dominates Act Two but has nothing to do with the climax – he’s offstage when it happens and remains in the dark about it when curtain falls. (Though Roma is beyond all doubt the biggest con man in the agency, he is the only salesman not linked in any way with the break-in, thus making him the show’s one innocent.)
Williamson’s? He, too, disappears, after Act One, Scene One but is given an Eleven O’Clock spot where he not only gives as well as takes the verbal abuse but also single-handedly solves the crime.
Instead of an ensemble piece, Mr. Mamet winds up with a number of “turns” – a jazz riff, if you will, where each musician steps forward to noodle a bit in solo.
Hey, wait a – hold on, I wanna – one fuckin’ minute, okay? Okay? Lemme – Listen. LISTEN! For crissake, listen, okay? Okay?
Five years ago, I saw an amateur production of GGR which was, frankly, terrible: most of the actors aimed for Armpit Realism – speaking their lines as they would have done on the street (“Yo!”) – and the result was loud, dull, and LOUD, for Mr. Mamet’s dialogue, in its own way, is as stylized as anything Congreve or Wilde ever wrote. GGR demands word-spinners; yes, jazz musicians; actors who can pull Mr. Mamet’s sharp, salty music out of all of his obscenities, his interruptions, his repetitions, and, by God, Mr. Veloudos has assembled a near-perfect cast who can do it. So whether or not you’re crazy about GGR as a PLAY, you’d best get your tickets now for this PRODUCTION, for I doubt you’ll see it performed as well elsewhere as it is over at the Lyric. Never mind – just go. Okay? OKAY? Just do it, OKAY?
While watching this production, at times I felt I was really watching a butched-up version of Clare Booth Luce’s THE WOMEN and so, borrowing that film’s opening credits where the women are compared to certain animals, I would like to thank Mr. Veloudos (the Rhino) and his actors: Ken Baltin (the Bear), Neil A. Casey (the Badger), Dale Place (the Fox), Mark S. Cartier (the Rabbit), Ted Reinstein (the Lion), Derek Stearns (the Sheep), and Peter Darrigo (the Pit Bull). If I must single any of them out, they would be Mr. Casey, who finally gets to play a role that has at least one ball intact; Mr. Place, a handsome devil who almost makes you forget he is playing One Mean Bastard – he drew applause with his final exit; and Mr. Reinstein, whose Roma turns Act Two into his own personal opera/circus; it’s a genuine pleasure listening to Mr. Reinstein mouth off (onstage, that is): he’s an amazing musician in terms of the octaves and decibel levels that pour out of him – sweet and sour, harsh and seductive and, in his scenes with Shelley, surprisingly tender – a love story? (Up until when Roma slaps a map of Florida down in front of Lingk in Act One, you’d swear he’s cruising his victim.)
(Stick around during intermission and watch the set crew construct the ransacked office, which consists of one door, a radiator, a file cabinet, desks, and clutter. Fascinating.)
Though I have now seen the GGR of my dreams (!), there is only one other production of Mr. Mamet’s play that I would attend: a production where “Shelley Levine” is played by a woman – AS a woman. The thought might send Mr. Mamet screaming into the nearest locker room, but, hey, if Shakespeare can take it like a man, why shouldn’t he?