Are we not men?
TMCC’s Glengarry Glen Ross
David Mamet is one of the world’s most successful playwrights, widely loved and widely hated. Detractors decry his dialogue as unrealistic, which is generally true, but sort of misses the point. Dialogue doesn’t have to be realistic to be great—just ask old what’s-his-name from Stratford-on-Avon. Another charge leveled against Mamet is rampant misogyny. His female characters are often one-dimensional foils for the swinging dicks who populate his imaginary worlds. In other plays, women are absent entirely, and any references to the fairer sex tend to be less than ingratiating.
These characteristics of Mamet’s work are important to the context of Truckee Meadows Community College’s production of the Pulitzer play Glengarry Glen Ross, arguably Mamet’s most famous. The text features no women characters. When women are discussed, they are either nameless sexual conquests or annoying impediments to deals. While the backdrop is a cutthroat real estate sales company, its primary concerns are the ebb and flow of male power relationships, and how the relentless pursuit of the American Dream will alienate and destroy men if unchecked. Consequently, it’s all the more curious that TMCC has staged the show with three different casts: a traditional male cast, an all-female cast, and a mixed-gender version.
I saw the male cast, so I can’t comment on whether the female cast mines the play to exciting new depths, though the potential is there. The concept seems gimmicky, but a bunch of macho women named John and Dave strutting around, calling each other “cocksucker” and referencing their huge testicles could potentially be revelatory. By the way, leave the kiddies at home for this one, unless you want them to head back to school sounding like sailors. If profanity offends you, well, you’re not going to see eye-to-eye with Mamet, so skip it.
Glengarry’s dialogue and pathos are incredibly challenging, and TMCC’s male cast has mixed, but mostly positive, results. John Frederick is spot-on and hugely entertaining as alpha male Ricky Roma, a badass firecracker whose sales prowess allows him to act however he wants, even toward the police. Cecil Averett’s portrayal of Shelly Levene, a fading legend of the trade, isn’t quite as solid. Levene reaches high highs and low lows in conjunction with the plotting, and Averett’s handling of the character’s hubris and vulnerability is somewhat uneven, though he does finish powerfully.
The rest of the cast is somewhere in between. In particular, Tony Degeiso is capable with Mamet’s language and offers a strong characterization as the hapless George Aaronow. However, for my money, it is the wrong characterization: too broad and played for laughs too often.
Overall, TMCC and director Paul Aberasturi have staged a solid production with the male cast. The text’s plotting and dialogue are superb, and TMCC has put together a worthy, crisp product that doesn’t get in Mamet’s way and fires on all cylinders when things start crackling. I’d hate to talk anyone out of seeing something momentous, but my advice is that if you’re unfamiliar with Glengarry, you should try to see this production on a male-cast night first. However, if you’re the type of dude who’s always regaling your coworkers with choice tidbits from Alec Baldwin’s iconic “Always-Be-Closing” speech (which isn’t in the stage version, mind you), then try something different. Head for the theater on a female-cast night, and maybe see some new light shed on this great play. At a brisk and enjoyable hour and a half, the production will hopefully invite some theater-goers and Mamet junkies to see it more than once.