By David Mamet. Directed by Rachel Peake. Presented by Classic Chic Productions. At the Beaumont Stage on Saturday, June 6. Continues until June 27
Class Chic Productions’ all-female mounting of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross shines bright light on the script while simultaneously holding up a murky lens: it both illuminates and obscures the text.
The script is about a bunch of male Chicago real-estate agents in the ’80s, the last decade that had the decency to notice that western culture is driven by greed. In the second scene, Moss tries to convince Aaronow to break into their own firm's office to steal leads so that they can sell them to a rival company, which will then supposedly hire them.
The script is about cutthroat capitalism, but it’s also about language, including the musicality of speech: the crazy, percussive rhythms of the text play out in stops and starts—half sentences, unfinished words—and sudden fuck-laden arias.
While revelling in the beauty of words, the script also explores the ways in which language and reason can be debased. Approaching a mark in a bar, for instance, an agent named Roma delivers a seductive treatise on moral relativism—before he moves in for the kill and offers his fellow drinker a chance to buy supposedly prime Florida real estate.
Because all of the characters are men, and because the language is all “cocksucker” this and “my balls” that, Glengarry Glen Ross raises questions about gender, too: the relationship between capitalism and the patriarchy.
In Classic Chic’s mounting of the play, the female actors don male drag—business suits and ties—and impersonate males. This choice is problematic in that it essentializes the supposed differences between the sexes: it implies that, although women actors can understand the male characters’ behaviour, only men could really behave as these characters do. I’ve seen Glengarry Glen Ross performed by women—as women. That take, which encourages an examination of the ways that people of both sexes participate in corporate ruthlessness, is more intellectually subtle.
One can sure as hell understand why female actors would want to take on these roles, though, no matter what they’re wearing; the characters are fantastic. And the performances in this production are strong.
Corina Akeson, who played Leontes last year in Classic Chic’s version of The Winter’s Tale, inhabits the persona of the cocky Moss, and once again she is insanely charismatic. With her strong cheekbones, she makes a handsome man, which helps, but a big part of her success here, as in The Winter’s Tale, comes from the fact that she’s not afraid of her character’s power, physically or emotionally: she takes the stage with exhilarating authority.
Marci T House plays Williamson, the disrespected office manager, with effectively icy fury. Other performances grew on me. Stepping into the pants of Roma, the central character, Michelle Martin started off too quietly on opening night, and she never fully reveals how dangerous the character is. Nonetheless, in the body of the evening, she delivers a satisfyingly intelligent and nuanced performance. Looking for all the world like Martin Scorsese’s younger brother, Suzanne Ristic plays the meek Aaronow. At first, I found the small failures of male impersonation distracting—the cocked wrists, for instance, the overly mobile shoulders—but Ristic ultimately delivers deep work that’s both comic and affecting. Similarly, Colleen Winton’s aging, desperate Levene grows as the evening progresses until she is on a giddy, unstoppable roll.
Act 2, which is a three-ring circus of posturing, plots, and counterplots, is stronger in this production than Act 1. Clearer directorial choices from Rachel Peake might have given this evening a more satisfying shape, and losing the aspect of male drag might have provoked more interesting thought.
Still, within the choices that have been made, there’s a wonderful play to feast on here, and some very talented actors interpreting it for you.