Always be closing
Glengarry Glen Ross
Why don’t we see more Mamet, dammit? David Mamet is widely regarded as a major American playwright—arguably our greatest living playwright, now that Arthur Miller has passed. Glengarry Glen Ross won Mamet a Pulitzer Prize in 1984 and last year’s Broadway production picked up a Tony for Best Revival of a Play. There have been at least two major productions in San Francisco, so why hasn’t it been staged here?
The current production by the Actor’s Theatre, a handsomely acted and low-budget effort, appears to be the first in the region. A local production is long overdue. First, because it’s an important play. Second, because the subject matter—the bruising, desperate, rough-and-tumble wheeling and dealing of the real-estate business—is highly applicable to life in California’s capital, where the real-estate market boomed in the last six years.
The play’s characters are at once appealing and repulsive. They’re all men, and they’re all salesmen—always salesmen, even when they’re chatting with each other. Their conversation can be incredibly coarse. (This script sets something of a record for frequent use of the f-word.) At other times, what they say sounds almost philosophical.
Understand that these guys always are figuring out their next deal with a client, or a loose partnership with a colleague, or an arrangement with their boss or prospective boss. Ethics, loyalty and other niceties are merely means to an end. It’s all about spin, and the playwright works in enough of it to fuel a hurricane. Mamet is writing from experience; he worked in a Chicago real-estate office before he made it as a writer.
Shelley Levene is an older man who’s clinging to his job, using his powers of persuasion in an effort to convince his boss (a much younger man) to keep him on. Actor Dan Harlan plays Levene in this production and does a beautiful job. Actor Anthony Sava is just as good as Ricky Roma, who posts the biggest sales figures on the office chalkboard and then sees a critical deal fall apart. Other cast members (Scott Divine, James Curry, Sean Williams, Michael Weber, and Enrico Blandin) are also good. Director Ed Claudio keeps the focus on the powerful, toxic, gritty language that drives this morally dubious drama.