More than two decades after it first arrived on Broadway, "Glengarry Glen Ross," David Mamet's scabrous, yet often hilarious look at the underbelly of the American Dream, has lost none of its sting.
This powerhouse revival, which opened Sunday at Broadway's Royale Theatre, scorches, thanks to superb performances down the line. The seven actors -Alan Alda, Liev Schreiber, Frederick Weller, Tom Wopat, Gordon Clapp, Jeffrey Tambor and Jordan Lage - define what it means to be an ensemble.
But then director Joe Mantello has marshaled his forces well (check out designer Santo Loquasto's effective and lavish sets) in this swift production, which lasts less than two hours, including intermission.
In "Glengarry," Mamet dissects a group of Chicago real-estate salesmen, who, in their own sleazy way, are distant relatives of Willy Loman, the hapless Everyman in Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman."
Mamet's army of avaricious capitalists are more profane, more greedy than the iconic Loman, but each takes a special joy in closing the deal - the ultimate in salesman satisfaction. Their language is raucous and rough, peppered with four-letter words that disparage not only their clients but each other.
Mamet's dialogue, among the best he has written, crackles with an abrasive theatricality that has a rhythm all its own. It's that tough-guy musicality which the cast captures in all its intensity.
Act 1 is a quick series of two-character encounters in a garish Chinese restaurant, three scenes in which each of the salesmen is introduced. The conversations reverberate with the rat-tat-tat of high-velocity pingpong matches.
The evening's two showiest roles belong to Alda and Schreiber. Alda's Shelly "The Machine" Levene most closely resembles Loman. He's a salesman past his prime, desperate to score big once more and get his name on the chalk board, the company's public tally of success.
Alda, his body a mass of twitches, is almost manic in his single-mindedness, yet there is something touching about the way his character reveres the ability to sell.
Schreiber, on the other hand, is the brazenly confident Richard "Ricky" Roma, immaculately dressed and with the manner of a born con man. He's a charlatan who remains unflappable even when a big deal is falling apart in front of his eyes.
That deal is in a jeopardy when the gullible client, portrayed by the wonderfully apologetic Wopat, says his wife wants out of the contract. Watch Schreiber try to keep the sale alive. Desperation has never looked so smooth.
All these events occur in the second act, set in a depressing, overly fluorescent sales office that has been ransacked the night before and the company's valuable client list stolen. Everyone is being questioned by a detective (Lage). Could it have been an inside job?
The policeman goes through each of the employees including the angry, agitated Dave (Clapp in the full flower of belligerency); the beaten-down George (Tambor in perfect hangdog mode) and the young office manager, played by Weller with the chilly cockiness of a bully-in-training.
Mamet's story is slight, yet effective, eventually turning into a genuine whodunit. But there's more to be savored, too, especially those colorful characters, urban pirates of commerce who disdain the humdrum world of normal business.
As Roma describes that gray existence: "It's not a world of men ... It's a world of clock watchers, bureaucrats, officeholders ... there's no adventure to it." In this "Glengarry Glen Ross," the adventure of selling shady real estate seems obscenely exhilarating.
The new revival of David Mamet's "Glengarry Glen Ross" is a kinder, gentler version of the play that won the Pulitzer Prize in 1984.
The play presents a group of real-estate salesmen whose properties - like the title, which conjures up the Scottish Highlands - are dubious.
The flimsiness of what they're selling adds a comic counterpoint to the ruthlessness with which they do their jobs.
"Glengarry" is a study of the male psyche in the Darwinian world of the workplace. Richard Roma, the most successful of the salesmen - elegantly played by Liev Schreiber - laments, "It's not a world of men ... it's a world of clock watchers, bureaucrats, officeholders."
It's a conscious parody of Edmund Burke's 18th-century declaration that the age of chivalry was dead. In the salesman's own eyes, he is a fearless knight eager to go into battle.
The play consists of three short scenes in which we see the salesman commiserate with and antagonize each other, and one long act in which their odd world unravels in the wake of a burglary.
Only 35 years separate "Glengarry" from Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman," but while his Willy Loman was a haunting, quasi-tragic figure, the "Glengarry" team carries with it a huge sense of irony.
Director Joe Mantello focuses on that irony.
On the plus side, he never lets Mamet's stylized dialogue seem mannered. What we seldom see, however, is the depths of masculine loneliness and humiliation the play implies.
No women appear onstage. Even references to women in the outside world are fleeting. The one who matters most is a wife who is as threatening to her hapless husband as the cheating salesman who has left him in an unusually pitiful condition.
Certain lines make it clear that the play is set in Chicago, specifically Carl Sandburg's "stormy, husky, brawling City of the big shoulders."
One of the things that strengthens Schreiber's characterization of Roma is that he's the only man with a Chicago accent, which adds great pungency to everything he says. Roma is also something of a dandy, occasionally "shooting" his French cuffs to punctuate his remarks. Schreiber is able to convey reservoirs of anger kept rigidly under control.
Alan Alda brings enormous poignancy to Shelley Levene, the over-the-hill salesman who most closely resembles Loman. In one of the play's pivotal scenes, Levene and Roma, like two predators circling their prey, "improvise" a scene with the skill of actors.
Actors would be "pretending." These two are in deadly earnest. Alda and Schreiber convey that powerfully.
Gordon Clapp provides a splendid portrait of not-so-quiet desperation as a salesman whose nerves are perilously frayed. Frederick Weller has an eerie steeliness as the cynical office manager. Tom Wopat is effective as the harried husband.
Santo Loquasto's second-act office set wittily evokes a chintzy, soulless workplace.
Like the play, it is keenly observed, drolly comic and intensely chilling.
The outrageously shady real estate deals are unchanged. The rough language is intact. But last night's star-studded return to Broadway of David Mamet's 1983 hit "Glengarry Glen Ross" had a very special luster.
The actors - with Liev Schreiber and Alan Alda, razzle-dazzlers both, at the helm - were simply magnificent, talking their sleazy salesman talk with the pinpointed accuracy of Mamet's music-like dialogue.
Of course, the 1992 movie cast - led by Jack Lemmon -was in its galaxy way unsurpassable, but the sheer spectacle of the current ensemble going at one another in the flesh provides a theatrical thrill no movie could match.
For here at the Royale Theatre is Mamet's beautifully crafted play - it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1984 -flawlessly staged by Joe Mantello, with its all-male cast offering the best acting on Broadway and drawing blood, guts and laughter along the way.
The play's structure is unusual and intriguing. The first and shorter act provides three brief duologues each for two different actors set in the garish red and gold booths of a Chinese restaurant.
The men are real estate salesman engaged in selling virtually valueless tracts of land in Florida – known variously as Glengarry and Glen Ross, hence the play's title - and the talk is in deals, closings and leads.
Leads - very valuable in this seamy business - are the names and addresses of likely prospects or, more credibly, possible suckers. It soon becomes clear that there are many circles to this kind of hell.
Although they are basically a mutual affirmation society for one another, the men are willing to cheat, steal and - forget honor among thieves - knife one another in the back. A tough and nasty game.
The second and longer act is in one scene and takes place in the beautifully realized set (decor by Santo Loquasto) of the real estate office itself.
A robbery has taken place. The prime list of hot leads has been stolen, and even the telephones have been ripped off.
What follows is, in effect, a detective story - right up to its surprise ending - but that story is in itself less important than Mamet's command of character and language.
The latter is magical in catching the concentric circles of everyday speech and the way certain people –such as these low-life, white-collar Chicago salesmen - use repetition as syntax and four-letter words for emphasis and punctuation.
The characterization is American theater at its finest, with the two contrasted leads, the elderly and weary Shelly ("The Machine") Levene and the youthfully brash Richard Roma, being simply two of the greatest roles in 20th century theater.
The play was beautifully staged and performed at its world premiere with Britain's National Theatre, but proved less effective a year later on its first Broadway outing, originating in Chicago.
This new production seems definitive.
Mantello's staging, as smooth as satin with a Velcro fastening, hits every note.
Alda plays Shelley as a shabby circus tiger at bay, but one with memories of past glories, ignited when he describes to Roma, with almost orgasmic pleasure, the ecstasy of his one last great deal.
The evening is nevertheless dominated by Schreiber's cutthroat sharp Roma, immaculate in his slightly too smart suits (telling costumes throughout by Laura Bauer), whose self-reverence is as apparent in the way he shoots his cuffs as in his imperial finger gestures.
The rest of the cast is also first-rate, from Frederick Weller's icy and cool snake of an Office Manager, to the conniving, blowhard Dave of Gordon Clapp, the piteously defeated George of Jeffrey Tambor and the ineffectual, emasculated dupe James of Tom Wopat.
The play is all the better this second Broadway time around.
Who needs caffeine when you've got ''Glengarry Glen Ross''? Watching Joe Mantello's high-octane revival of David Mamet's play about a dog-eat-dog real estate office in Chicago feels like having espresso pumped directly into your bloodstream.
This transfixingly acted production, which opened last night at the Royale Theater, leaves you with a case of happy jitters that may keep you up hours past bedtime. But what's a little lost sleep when you've had the chance to see and hear a dream-team ensemble, including Alan Alda and Liev Schreiber, pitching fastball Mamet dialogue with such vigor, expertise and pure love for the athletics of acting?
Mr. Mamet's Pulitzer Prize-winning portrait of nasty office politics according to Darwin may not deliver the same breathtaking blow it dealt theatergoers when it opened on Broadway in 1984. The four-letter fusillades that are the lingua franca of these shabby, strutting salesmen have, after all, become a staple on cable television in shows like ''The Sopranos'' and ''Deadwood.''
Nor are Americans who have endured seasons of competitive reality shows and the Enron and Tyco scandals likely to be shocked by the depiction of desperate men for whom honesty and honor are the real dirty words. Compared with younger playwrights like Neil LaBute and Patrick Marber, Mr. Mamet looks almost soft-hearted, since he actually seems to like the amoral losers and liars he writes about. And without its power to unsettle, ''Glengarry'' seems a shade more slender and contrived than it once did.
That this compact show (105 minutes) still retains such glorious freshness can partly be attributed to its harsh, gleeful ring of familiarity for anyone who has witnessed the instinctive cruelty of power struggles in the workplace -- especially those involving scared old pros versus hungry neophytes.
But the play's enduring vitality has even more to do with what is, in artistic terms, Mr. Mamet's most important anatomical asset: his ear. Mr. Mamet hears American scheming with an exactitude and delight still unsurpassed by any other dramatist.
This very lively art is at work in everything from the play's beguilingly melodic title (a reference to two housing developments) to its use of trade jargon as blunt weapons. ''Glengarry Glen Ross'' makes hot- and cold-running music out of the banter, bluster and spiels practiced by the men who work out of a shabby storefront office on the North Side of Chicago.
The danger in performing Mamet these days is that he has become so widely known, so endlessly imitated. It takes a careful, skillful ensemble to render his characters without making them sound like jacked-up dirty robots. Making them sound spontaneous requires something like brilliance. Which is indeed what is achieved by the protean Mr. Mantello (who won Tonys for ''Take Me Out'' and ''Assassins'') and the actors playing Mr. Mamet's band of backstabbers.
Performers whose tricks you think you know inside-out surprise you here -- faces familiar from television (Mr. Alda, Jeffrey Tambor of ''Arrested Development'' and the terrific Gordon Clapp of ''NYPD Blue'') as well as from the stage (Mr. Schreiber, Tom Wopat and Frederick Weller). As an ensemble, they nail degrees of desperation with the snap and synchronicity of precision tap dancers.
These actors all understand that the alpha-male animals of ''Glengarry'' never just mean what they say. Language is always camouflage or subterfuge, used in the lonely, nasty mission of staying afloat. Even the most loutish of the salesmen are as aware of semantics and its subtexts as linguistics professors. Try counting the variations on the words ''speak'' and ''say'' and ''talk.'' Depending on when and how they are uttered, these basic monosyllables convey primal shifts in the balance of power: who's up, who's down, who for all practical purposes is dead.
The plot of ''Glengarry,'' which was made into an all-star movie with Al Pacino and Jack Lemmon in 1992, is a typical spiked Mamet cocktail of deception, crime and corkscrew twists. It takes place in a Chinese restaurant, where the boys hang out and woo customers, and in the office ruled with bureaucratic smugness by a young man of ice named John Williamson (here played by Mr. Weller).
Santo Loquasto's fake wood-paneled office is dead-on (though his immaculate Chinese restaurant, with its immense fish tank, looks a bit grand for the neighborhood). Laura Bauer's costumes unobtrusively and perfectly match the men wearing them. And in a play that doesn't call for elaborate lighting, Kenneth Posner pulls off a quiet coup de théâtre at the end of the first scene, in which Williamson, buttoning up his trench coat after lunch with the Willy Loman-like Shelly Levene (Mr. Alda), fleetingly becomes a nightmare vision of a fascist executioner.
But it's the performers, who also include Jordan Lage as an impatient police detective, who keep ''Glengarry'' spinning so convincingly, especially Mr. Alda and Mr. Schreiber, who have the juiciest parts. For a man who achieved his greatest fame as one of America's most loved television figures (on ''M*A*S*H''), Mr. Alda has since shown a welcome affinity for snakes and weasels (most recently in the film ''The Aviator'').
Here he exudes the sweaty pathos of a man who seems to believe that if he stops speaking, he'll die. It is Levene who appropriately begins the play -- in repetitive midspeech, stalling for time. And throughout, Mr. Alda rattles off words with the wrenching momentum of an old jalopy, low on gas but moving as fast as it can.
As for the brilliant Mr. Schreiber, who plays the preening master salesman of the moment, it seems he can conquer pretty much any style of theater. Having shone in Pinter, Shakespeare and LaBute, he now reinvents the Mamet pitchmeister. Looking like a sleek hybrid of Rudolph Valentino and Rodney Dangerfield, Mr. Schreiber employs a precise battery of self-adjusting mannerisms, from making his shirt cuffs shoot out to realigning his shoulders.
His style speaks of conscientious hours before a mirror. The seductive spiel with which his character, Richard Roma, woos a spineless pigeon (Mr. Wopat, unrecognizable and excellent) has the same studied suaveness. When Roma erupts in anger, it's only a quick tearing of a silken fabric that instantly mends itself. To say that Mr. Schreiber gives an artificial performance would be mistaken. It's Roma who lives that artificial performance; it's his own form of survival gear.
Of course, this impeccably realized production makes clear what Roma chooses not to acknowledge -- that his day of destruction, too, will come, if not in the immediate future. And like Mr. Alda's dying dinosaur, he will no doubt go out talking, gasping for words as if they were oxygen.
It bursts off the starting line, bam, the moment that lights reveal the red-red exotica of a mid-American fantasy of a mid-price Chinese restaurant. A desperate older man is already deep into his spiel - "John ... John ... John. OK. John, John. Look" - pleading with all the exhilarating flop-sweat patter and rhythmic dirty talk that once turned David Mamet from mere brilliant playwright to his own instantly-identifiable theater style.
Unlike the '80s revivals that crowd this Broadway season like uninvited relatives, "Glengarry Glen Ross," which opened last night at the Royale Theatre, is a whole new thrill. Even after the revelatory premiere from Chicago that preceded the Pulitzer Prize in 1984, even after the movie that paired Al Pacino and Jack Lemmon in 1992, "Glengarry" still is grinning as it again hits the country's competitive spirit below the belt and finds as much bile as testosterone.
What an all-star cast has been hand-picked for Joe Mantello's lean and hungry production of what appears to be one of America's two great salesman dramas. The tragi-comedy about small-potatoes real estate hustlers is peopled by an ensemble - think seven angry men - that defies any impulse to single out a few. Mamet, master of motormouth poetic subtext, is honored with a company that skews older than the usual, a shift that emphasizes the melancholy in the emotional music of need and greed.
This is not to suggest a slight to the pleasure of brutal fun. For starters, Alan Alda is magnificent as Shelley Levene, former star huckster in a slump, whose opening monologue sets the unnerving pace for an evening that, despite its brevity, feels psychologically epic. His long bones squirming in an old-shark's suit, Alda uses that wheedling past of his voice that can shift from ingratiating to grating without exposing the gears. When Shelley says, with bizarre pride, "A man is his job" or changes the inflection on a repeated line about his daughter, Alda slashes his nice-guy image with a deadly delicacy.
Liev Schreiber is sleaze triumphant as young hotshot Ricky Roma, the role that introduced a Chicago secret named Joe Mantegna to the world. Watch Schreiber preen down to his snappy socks (costumes by Laura Bauer), so sleek they could be a reptile floating just under the slime in a swamp. For all the flash - even the emphatic use of his pinky finger - his cool is betrayed by the tension under his skull and the violence of his gum chewing.
The play begins with three separate, exquisitely shaped duets in booths at the Chinese restaurant (mercilessly observed by designer Santo Loquasto), takes a breath for intermission, then catapults us into the cheapo real-estate office with metal furniture on the morning after a burglary. Jeffrey Tambor ("Arrested Development") is the vision of utter despair as the sweet, bitter loser with a mouth frozen in a lifetime of disappointment. Gordon Clapp, gentle Medavoy in "NYPD Blue," does an astounding flip as the hothead who plans the crime. Tom Wopat is almost unrecognizable as the ordinary guy who almost gets taken by the scam. Finally, Frederick Weller, indelible as the redneck pitcher in Mantello's production of "Take Me Out," more than matches the stars as the office manager with an infinite capacity for self-interest.
Kenneth Posner's lights drop us into the office with the unhealthy buzz of fluorescent anomie. Mantello uses a musical drone between scenes that almost sings sadness. Mamet, who broke his own mold Off-Broadway this season with his fabulous bad-taste farce called "Romance," once said "The nicest inconvenience I know is the traffic jam on Broadway as the people leave the play." Wonderful to have him back inconveniencing us again.
Yo, guys, listen up: Broadway just got a big, fat shot of testosterone, right where the sun don't shine.
Those fluffy Disney characters, wilting Tennessee Williams heroines and even the suspiciously deep-voiced showgirls in La Cage aux Folles have been joined by some honest-to-God, meat-eating, football-watching men.
OK, so we don't exactly see the characters in Glengarry Glen Ross eating meat or watching football. But in the revival of Glengarry(* * * out of four) that opened Sunday at the Royale Theatre, we observe them in the equally machismo-fueled environment of David Mamet's workplace.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning drama that helped cement Mamet's reputation was made into a memorable 1992 film starring Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon and Kevin Spacey as employees of a cutthroat real estate firm where the death of a salesman, figuratively speaking, always seemed imminent.
In the new production, Alan Alda is cast as Shelly Levene, a former hot shot whose fortunes and stature have sagged. As played by Lemmon, Levene was a sad creature whom we instinctively rooted for, even knowing that his case was hopeless. Alda's interpretation is somewhat more abrasive, but ultimately makes Levene's desperation, and his doom, just as palpable.
Frederick Weller puts a similarly distinctive spin on the role of John Williamson, the acerbic upstart whom Levene and his colleagues report to. Looking fresher and greener than Spacey did on screen, Weller plays Williamson more as an ambitious frat boy with a mean streak.
The best reason to check out this Glengarry, though, is Liev Schreiber, whose take on the crude but slick sales ace Ricky Roma is both scarier and more seductive than Pacino's was. Schreiber's Roma is a natural-born player and predator; whether he's buttering up Levene or ensnaring a potential client, you're fascinated and repelled by him and grateful that he isn't trying to sell you anything.
Like Schreiber, director Joe Mantello recognizes the dangerous allure contained beneath Mamet's staccato rhythms and scathing retorts. In the first act, three scenes that each feature a different pair of actors evoke the mating rituals of vicious, carnivorous animals, with one party playing the aggressor as the other succumbs.
Gordon Clapp is briskly funny as one aggressor, while Jeffrey Tambor and Tom Wopat are convincingly pathetic as two of the victims who don't have what it takes to compete in the game that is life according to Mamet.
However grisly that game can get, this Glengarry reaffirms that it can make an entertaining spectator sport.