David Mamet’s tale a classic lesson in ensemble acting
Charlene Baldridge | Downtown News
It is said that playwright David Mamet is a misogynist. Looking at his Pulitzer Prize-winning 1984 Broadway play, “Glengarry Glen Ross” – playing through Oct. 21 at La Jolla Playhouse – one becomes convinced the more apt term might be misanthrope.
The play has a population of five cutthroat characters, not one of them sympathetic. They are Shelly Levene, John Williamson, Dave Moss, George Aaronow and Richard Roma.
All work in a competitive real estate office in Chicago, at the depths of a depressed market circa 1983. Other characters, both male, are henpecked client James Lingk and a police investigator named Baylen.
Mamet presents six of these guys, two by two, in the first act, which takes place in a Chinese restaurant that could be on Howard Street.
The “el” runs overhead and enormous koi swim in a fish tank over the duct-tape patched Naugahyde booth. When act one is over, Todd Rosenthal’s meticulously detailed set flies upwards and the act two real estate office is revealed in all its ransacked disarray.
Performed without an interval, the play takes its name from two Florida subdivisions currently being sold, Glengarry Highlands and Glen Ross Farms. It’s near the end of the month, and business has been so bad that the owners of the firm have instituted a competition for top sales. First place is a Cadillac. Second is a set of steak knives. The runners up face pink slips.
In scene one, office manager Williamson (played by Johnny Wu) meets with former top salesman Levene (Peter Maloney) to discuss his dismal performance. Levene pleads for more “prime” leads, for which he offers Williamson a bribe.
The next scene concerns salesmen Moss (James Sutorious) and Aaronow (Ray Anthony Thomas). Moss tells Aaronow of his scheme to steal the leads and sell them to another unscrupulous realtor for a chunk of change, which he offers to split with Aaronow, who will be his accomplice in the crime. Aaronow isn’t sure.
In the third scene, top salesman Roma (Manu Narayan) tries to close a deal with his client, Lingk (Jeff Marlow).
Not one of these men means what he says: not to the other salesmen, not to Williamson and not to the client. Each is willing to do whatever he must, legal or not, to close the deal and to come out on top.
Revelation of the burglary’s perpetrator is the big wow of act two. Because of the rat-a-tat, rat’s ass language, the unsavory characters and the suspense, the play is still a powerful evening in the theatre, proving to be a lesson in the gymnastics of sustained ensemble acting and a reacquaintance with one of America’s most incendiary writers.
Sensitive ears must get past numerous recurrences of the four-letter word beginning with “F.” One couple left in the middle of the play Sunday evening, Sept. 23; had they stayed they might have learned that word is mild compared to the deeds.
Mamet is also author of “American Buffalo,” “Oleanna” and “Speed-the-Plow.” “Glengarry Glen Ross” was made into highly successful 1992 film and is due to be revived on Broadway in October with Al Pacino as Levene. Dan Sullivan will direct.
“Glengarry Glen Ross” plays through Oct. 21 at La Jolla Playhouse, 2910 La Jolla Village Dr. Tues. – Wed. 7:30 p.m., Thurs. – Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 2 and 8 p.m., Sun. 2 and 7 p.m. For more information, go to lajollaplayhouse.org or call 858-550-1010.