Thursday, February 09, 2012

Great acting brings Mamet's words to life in 'Glengarry'

Following an award-winning 2007 production of “Glengarry Glen Ross,” M&D Productions is taking another crack at David Mamet’s play with the same director, Dennis O’Neil, and largely the same cast.

“The reason we want to do it again is because we want to do it at our [Your Theatre] space,” Mark DeLancey, the executive director of M&D, said. Their 2007 production was done at the less intimate stage at the Eastern Slope Inn Playhouse.

This new production, which opens Feb. 9 and is running Thursday through Saturday for the next three weeks, takes advantage of the intimacy of the theater to help create the claustrophobic atmosphere of Mamet’s look at the dark side of real estate salesmen.

The new production also adds the opening scene that Mamet wrote for the 1992 film that wasn’t in the original play. This scene, the film’s most famous and oft-referenced, featured Alec Baldwin as a big shot brought in by the unseen owners of the shady real estate office to motivate the salesmen. He presents them with a cruel sales contest, the losers of which are rewarded with a pink slip.

In writing the screen version of the play it was as if Mamet saw a way to improve his own show. It is a heck of an opening scene that helps clarify everything that follows. It ups the stakes for the characters and gives the reason for their desperation. Director O’Neil takes on the Baldwin role himself and delivers the iconic monologue with vigor.

Mamet’s dialogue is laden with profanity, but it is also very sharp and observant of human nature, particularly the way men interact. He writes the way everyone wishes they could speak. Those clever things you think of saying hours after a conversation, Mamet has his characters think of in the moment.

The characters of “Glengarry Glen Ross” are more akin to con artists than real estate agents. They present the land they sell as the American dream, but the land is rotten and so is the dream. The way Ricky Roma (Kevin O’Neil) manipulates a possible client (Dan Phelps) is slimy and deplorable and yet, at the same time, you see the tremendous pressure put on these men as personified by the character Shelly Levene (Ken Martin).

Levene, a former hot-shot salesman, hasn’t had a sale in months and holds onto past glories to justify his existence. In the first scene following the prologue he desperately begs office manager John Williamson (Tom O’Reilly) for some good leads. Martin does fine work portraying a man who is barely holding onto his dignity.

The structure of the show is interesting, too. The first act is broken up into three separate scenes each with two men interacting. Each scene is forcefully driven by one of the actors, with the other taking a reactive role.

This give-and-take dynamic is most amusing in the scene between Scott Katrycz as the loud- mouth schemer Dave Moss and Andrew Brosnan as the mousy George Aaronow. Aaronow can barely get a word in, but Moss keeps saying “You’re right!” more or less to his own statements. The scene takes an unexpected dark turn that Katrycz and Brosnan play nicely.

The second act of the show shifts to an office setting and becomes an ensemble piece that pays off on everything set up in the previous one-on-one scenes. There’s very often two or three conversations going on at once and the dense overlapping dialogue is performed with precision by the entire cast.

Set designer Deborah Jasien, once again, creates not one, but two, impressive sets. Act one has a rotating Chinese restaurant set that spins around between scenes to reveal the next pair of actors. When the curtain comes up for act two, the restaurant is gone and an entirely believable office set is in its place.

Since director O’Neil and his cast are returning to this material, it is clear they’re very comfortable with it. There are complex shifts in tones going on here, but the show always feels focused and well paced. It is testament to the caliber of Mamet’s writing that suspense is created through dialogue alone. These actors match that writing and create characters that we both detest and empathize with at the same time.

For more information or tickets call the box office at 662-7591.

No comments: