By David Mamet. Directed by Michael Shamata. An Arts Club Theatre Company production. At the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage on Wednesday, July 28. Continues until August 22
Playwright David Mamet makes music out of the word fuck in his classic 1983 script Glengarry Glen Ross and, in this Arts Club production, Mamet’s spoken score is in the hands of a skilled band of actors.
The play is about a bunch of salesmen in a cutthroat Chicago real-estate office. The plot involves the theft of sales leads, but the real interest lies in Mamet’s expression of the ruthless energy of capitalism and masculinity: the drive to come out on top.
The script’s macho force tumbles out in scenes and monologues that are like duets and solos in an evening of jazz. In the first of these, an older salesman named Levene struggles for survival; his sales have tanked and he’s going to get fired, so he tries to work a deal with Williamson, the office manager. Playing Levene, Gerard Plunkett expertly drives this scene, taking full advantage of the hysteria that fuels his character, and finding all sorts of nuance and surprise in Levene’s desperate rhythms. Vincent Gale is less effective as Williamson, offering a one-note wall of furious resistance.
The energy drops in Scene 2 because John Pyper-Ferguson, who plays Moss, the character who should be keeping the motor running, lets it stall sometimes. This change in pace seems to be at least partly Michael Shamata’s directorial choice, however; it’s mirrored in Noah Drew’s sound design, where the introductory jazz is relatively languid. Still, Pyper-Ferguson is far from being asleep at the wheel, and his scene partner, Brian Markinson, deeply inhabits his character Aaronow’s comically hesitant rhythms.
Playing top salesman and cock of the walk Ricky Roma, Will & Grace star Eric McCormack dominates the third scene of Act 1 and much of Act 2. The guy is fantastic. Roma seduces a client named Lingk with a sinuous flow of self-empowerment philosophy, then tears his mask off and hollers in animal rage when he discovers that his plans have been thwarted. Much of the beauty in McCormack’s performance lies in the physical details: the way he adjusts the collar on his shirt as if clothing can barely contain him, and the unexpected delicacy of his hand gestures.
In the most satisfying passage of the evening, Roma and Levene collude to snow the hapless Lingk. The salesmen relish their deception, and actors McCormack and Plunkett are clearly delighted as they ride Mamet’s language. Bart Anderson’s Lingk is such an effectively whey-faced loser that it’s enough to make you sick to your stomach.
The second act unfolds in a real-estate office, and designer Kevin McAllister offers a boldly architectural set: a slab of space angled on the Stanley Theatre’s wide stage, defined by a thick white frame and accented by a pillar and the angularity of cheap office furniture.
There is one hugely annoying element in this show: the use of noisy, distorting microphones in Act 1. They shouldn’t be necessary; these guys are real actors.
Watch a preview of the Arts Club Theatre's production of Glengarry Glen Ross.