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Glengarry Glen Ross
By Elyse Sommer
The reason this latest Broadway version of one of Mamet's big crowd pleasers has been mounted just seven years after another outstanding Broadway production is of course the casting of the actor often referred to as "the great Al Pacino" who played the hot shot Richard Roma in the 1992 movie but is now the has-been who's desperately trying to prove that he's still a contender in the nasty business of selling worthless Florida land to naive suckers. It's Pacino's name on the marquee that has been selling orchestra tickets for a hefty $167,50 and as much as $399.50 for premium tickets, even though the producers opted to keep the press at bay until halfway through the scheduled run. i
The Gerald Shoenfeld Theatre is just two doors away from the Golden — the venue where Glengarry Glen Ross had its original production and where David Mamet's newest offering, The Anarchist, has met with such negative response that the producers announced an early funeral just days after its official opening. Given the enduring appeal of Mamet's earlier triumph and the dismal failure of his latest work, it's easy to see those neighboring marquees as another version of that who's -on- top blackboard;. In this case Mamet comes off a bit like Glengarry's Shelly — a hot playwright who seems increasingly less able to come up with plays to either entertain or have continuing relevance over time.
Disappointing as Mr. Mamet's new play (if you can call it that) is, Glengarry Glen Rose, does indeed hold up as an incisive drama that's notable for its unlikeable but often absurdly funny characters, and its at once poetic and profane dialogue. Adding to its durability is the chameleonic way it evokes whatever era you see it in, and whatever its flim-flam men are selling.
Despite dated office details — no cell phones or computers, grungy steel desks, deals made in a Chinese restaurants— today's audiences will have no difficulty connecting what they see to the greedy abandon that led to the 2008 economic and real estate collapse. The Glengarry gang would be right in there pushing NINA (no income, no assets) mortgages to people who eventually could not meet their payments. The real estate scams that Mamet got to know first hand as a young man were shameful but not as far reaching as the recent practice of bundling those mortgages with higher rated mortgages intermingled with B-rated bonds passed of as triple A rated.
With Daniel Sullivan, who also directed Al Pacino in The Merchant of Venice/, seeming to encourage him to chew the scenery verbally and with his body language, don't expect Pacino's Shelly to so much as nibble on a single dumpling in that opening Chinese restaurant scene, one of three duets in this dramatized version of a piece of music
The role of the desperate Shelly Levene is indeed major, but it's one of two that dominate the drama, the other being his hot shot protege Richard Roma. Yet, excellent and on the mark as Bobby Cannavale, is as the slick and reptilian Roma, he seems to have bought into this as "The Al Pacino Show." That makes Levene this production's Top Dog Closer and Canavale's performance though rivetingl isn't quite as special as Liev Schreiber's in the 2005 version. (review).
Pacino and Cannavale are at their best in the second act. There's a fine scene between them when Shelly passes on his years of experience to the younger man. Pacino is fine when he enters the office exhilarated in his belief that he's regained his luck with a tidy sale. He also has some fine understated moments when he sits back quietly as Roma bursts into an F-Bomb studded rage at the office manager.
If, like the young man sitting next to me, you you buy a ticket to see the "great" Pacino, you will probably join in with the crowd that applauds every time Pacino comes onstage. But you'll also be watching what's decidedly ensemble piece.
The first act's three Chinese restaurant scenarios showcase Pacino first and Cannavale last. But neither would work as well without top drawer support from the actors each is paired with. In Pacino intense plea for decent leads that's David Harbour as the cold and amoral John Williamson whose job it is to assign those leads. In the last part we see Roma working his slick wiles on a total stranger, James Linkg (a brilliantly understated performance by Jeremy Shamos). John C. McGinley and Richard Schiff provide the production's comic highlight when McGinley's Dave Moss tries to get the schlemielish George Aaronow to be his partner in a crooked survival scheme. It's an interchange reminiscent of an old Abbott and Costello skit.
Since the first act is quite short (about 35 minutes) it would have been a smart move for set designer Eugene Lee to take advantage of modern scenery techniques to create a sliding or revolving set which would make it possble to eliminate the intermission and skip right to the burglarized office where all the men, plus the polic investigator Baylen (Murphy Guyer), come together to bring everything to its downbeat solution.
Ultimately, director Joe Mantello and his cast were truer to the rhythm of the Mametian dialogue than Mr. Sullivan and his cast. That said, though this production doesn't break new ground it is a solid presentation of a once groundbreaking and still worth seeing play. What's more, Al Pacino obviously has the kind of powerhouse charisma that works magic for any play with his name above the title. Consequently this Glengarry Glen Rose is sufficiently critic proof to have made it unnecessary to use Sandy as an excuse to put off the critics for so long.
For more about David Mamet and links to reviews of other plays by him reviewed at Curtainup, see our Mamet Backgrounder.
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