Mamet. You know the guy. David Mamet. You know him? Good. Playwright, Pulitzer Prize winner. Fine. That's what we're talking about. We're speaking about him. A show called Glengarry Glen Ross. With the salesmen? "Always be closing." The real estate guys. "Get them to sign on the line which is dotted." ***image2***Funny, right? "First prize is a Cadillac. Anyone want to see second prize? Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you're fired." Funny stuff.
The language rightly takes first prize in the Santa Fe Playhouse production of Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross. Mamet doesn't capture how "people really talk," he transforms everyday speech into music. Mistakes can be made performing his scripts because the lines are easily underestimated. In fact, the orchestrations are intricate, sometimes akin to chamber music. Characterized partly by repetition, rephrasing, silences that say more than words, truncated sentences, extraordinarily well placed profanity and blunt turns of phrase that tell circuitous stories, the best of Mamet's writing begs for a highly artful delivery that, at the same time, seems absolutely natural.
Director Liam Lockhart largely pulls off this high-wire act. Obvious craft has gone into rehearsals; the enormous volume of words that often seem as flat as Kansas, have shape, punch, energy and, most importantly, integral congruence with the characters. The set is minimal and, although a few scene changes take too long, the overall tempo is brusque without being rushed. Mamet builds the dramatic tension through a series of dialogues in Act 1, setting up Act 2's ensemble pieces in a steady crescendo. Lockhart's work with the cast largely captures this arc.
W Scott Andrus plays Shelly "The Machine" Levene, an aging real estate salesman who not so long ago had a knack for racking up impressive closers. He's on a "bad streak" at the play's opening, offering to pay his office manager for sales leads. The office manager, played in perfect pitch by Tom Romero, obviously has zero confidence in Levene's ability to return to form. Andrus has perhaps the most challenging role in the play. Levene is simultaneously sympathetic and pathetic. Andrus makes you root for Levene and cringe at the same time. This is no ***image1***mean feat, as it would be easy to lean too heavily one way or the other.
Christopher Dempsey as the sales boss provides an energetic overture. His monologue, addressed to the audience as if the 30 people in attendance were his sales force, sets the tone: Real estate sales as Darwinian heartlessness. Tom Carroll as Dave Moss, Ron Bloomberg as George Aaronow and Jacob O'Brien Mulliken as Richard Roma, Levene's fellow salesmen (that is, con men, shysters, egomaniacs, bullshit artists and existentialists) each turn in admirable performances. Carroll's version of Dave Moss is thick with resentment, greed and an ego the size of Godzilla, but Carroll also conveys Moss's fragility beneath the amorality. O'Brien Mulliken's Roma is sharklike, opportunistic and ought to be absolutely unlikeable, but isn't. Bloomberg captures Aaronow as a hapless foil, resigned to the ugliness of his job and the insanity of his coworkers.
The only drawback to this otherwise engaging production are some frayed edges toward the end. The chaos in the real estate office could be heightened, especially to provide a stronger contrast for the shenanigans of Roma and Levene as they hype their "legitimacy" to the terrified James Lingk (convincingly played by Jim Clem), a client who desperately wants out of a deal. As the rapacious greed and duplicity intensifies, some of the ensemble coherence of the production ebbs. Overall, though, this production is a closer.