GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS
Egyptian Arena Theatre
If anyone thinks they have seen enough of David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize winning 1984 play Glengarry Glen Ross, especially if the gloomy, dark, rainy film version is your only point of reference, run (don’t walk!) to the Egyptian Arena Theatre in Hollywood for a startling new experience. Mamet himself calls Glengarry a comedy and that’s exactly how director Misty Carlisle has guided her spectacular cast, surely the best ensemble cast of the year in Los Angeles.
This is a new and refreshing look at Glengarry Glen Ross, exploring those intense comic moments but never losing sight of the underlying message which is, as Mamet puts it in his program notes, to “speak to something that is current in the collective unconscious of the country at this time: the idea of the difference between business and fraud, what is permissible in the name of getting a living and what isn't. [It’s] about revealing specific natures of a bunch of people who happen to be involved in an enterprise.”
Greed is the key with the play’s five antihero salesmen, men selling dubious Floridian land packages. People whose names in the phonebook or on some marketing list have made them prey for this competitive team of unscrupulous professional hucksters trying to “close” enough deals to land them a Cadillac or vacation in Hawaii. These are men willing to trade their firstborn to see their name at the top of the office’s chalkboard at the end of the month, no matter how much they have to lie and cheat to put themselves ahead of their coworkers. The camaraderie in the office is thick but bogus, as any of these guys would sell one another out for lunch at the local Chinese greasy-spoon dive they use as their second office.
There’s riveting work done by the five dynamic actors playing Mamet’s foulmouthed and epically unscrupulous salesmen, joined on stage by an innocent henpecked mark (poor wide-eyed nebbish Elvin Whitesides) and a cop (an all-business Scott Asti) who is confused by what he sees going on around the marketing office in the name of “business.”
The riveting and eventually heartbreaking performance by Travis Michael Holder, as senior salesman Shelly-The-Machine-Levene, is the heart of this exceptional production. His performance so delicately layered and nuanced it’s as if we’re sitting in the office being flies on the wall. With no less than three ovations after his many speeches during the performance, Holder all but channels his desperate character clawing to get himself back to the success and status he once enjoyed.
Nick Salamone is a fine counterpart as Shelly’s loud and abrasive protégé Ricky Roma, practicing all the devious sales tricks he learned under his mentor’s tutelage (“Always be closing” is his motto). The sense of a strong father-son relationship between Levene and Roma, not easily evident in the play as usually performed, is permeable in this memorable presentation.
Jan Munroe is very funny as George Aranow, the office’s dumbest and most inept salesman who’s being led to the slaughter and into a dangerous scheme by coworker Dave Moss (Robert Hugh Starr), a slippery, angry guy out to get himself ahead over any dead bodies he needs to help fell. Eric Giancoli finishes the realty team as Office Manager John Williamson, a clueless guy who’ll sacrifice everything and anyone to keep his job and some semblance of peace in his workday. The work of all seven of these actors is something to see and appreciate firsthand.
Mamet’s section in the program also states, “This view of the play is even more relevant today, a time in our nation’s evolution where our leaders have not only lied to us all over and over again, they’ve gotten away with their tricks and devices because of the apathy of the American populace.” This is what the playwright was trying to convey nearly 25 years ago and unfortunately it still holds tight without resolution today, and that is to mourn the death of the “American Dream” in the name of an unwatched consumerism.
As Mamet gently suggests between the humor and the many, many f-words of Glengarry Glen Ross is that over the course of the last few decades we have slowly traded our moral values for insatiable excess, with the glutinous practitioners of greed getting as much as they can from the rest of us while stepping over the bodies of those more gullible than themselves.
Producer-director Carlisle and her pitch-perfect team of powerful high octane actors have managed to express this and still find the comic moments Mamet intended in his contemporary classic. Amazingly, they have accomplished this without sacrificing the grit and sliminess of these characters, which is what makes this new version of a great story zip along at high speed.
Don’t think you know this one until you see it for yourself, because Delta Highway’s new interpretation of Glengarry Glen Ross is so high powered and risky it’s like seeing it for the first time.
Glengarry Glen Ross plays Fridays & Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 3pm & 7pm through Nov. 18 at the Egyptian Arena Theatre, 1625 N. Las Palmas Ave., Hollywood (NOTE: an alternate cast plays Thursdays at 8pm). For tickets, call 323.969.4935.