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A CurtainUp Review
Glengarry Glen Ross reviewed by Elyyse Sommer

Just give me some leads that don't come out of a phone book, huh, you give me something hotter than that and I can close it. It's just a streak. I'm gonna turn it around.-- Shelly, the erstwhile hot-shot salesman on a losing streak to the hard-nosed office manager Williamson

It's not a world of men — it's a world of clock watchers, bureaucrats, officeholders. — Richard Roma, Shelly's prodigy disgusted by the robbery that has jeopardized the Cadillac and $6000 commission he has earned as the sleazy real estate's most successful "closer."
Alan Alda &  Liev Schreiber
Alan Alda & Liev Schreiber (Photo: Scott Landis)
David Mamet's inside look at a sleazy Chicago real estate office and its dying breed of knights who earn their living by fast talking buyers into signing on the dotted line to questionable real estate investments won him the 1984 Pulitzer prize for drama. If you didn't see the Broadway production in which the has-been and current top "closer" were played by Robert Prosky and Joe Mantegna, you probably saw the star-studded 1992 film (also scripted by Mamet with Jack Lemmon as Shelly Levene, Al Pacino as Richard Roma, Kevin Spacey as John Williamson, Ed Harris as Dave Moss and Alan Arkin as George Aaronow). Memorable as that film ensemble was, the current crew of hungry for good leads salesmen makes Glengarry Glen Ross crackle with more than its favorite and much used expletives (according to one recorded tally, the F word is used 152 times).

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.

Written by David Mamet
Directed by Joe Mantello
Cast: Alan Alda (Shelly Levene ), Gordon Clapp (Dave Moss), Jordon Lage (Baylen), Liev Schreiber (Richard Roma), Jeffrey Tambor (George Aaronow), Frederick Weller (John Williamson), and Tom Wopat (James Lingk).
Set Design: Santo Loquasto, costumes by and lighting by.
Costume Design: Laura Bauer
Lighting Design: Kenneth Posner
Running time: 1 hour and 45 minutes, with intermission.
Royale Theatre -- renamed just after this production opened as the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre-- 242 West 45th Street, 212/239-6900 242 W. 45th Street
From 4/08/05; opening 5/01/05
Tues through Sat @ 8:00PM, Wed & Sat @ 2:00PM, Sun @ 3:00PM.
Tickets: $91.25, $81.25, $66.25, $46.25
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on May 4th press performance
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