David Mamet’s return to Broadway has been upstaged — by David Mamet.
A crackling revival of his excellent “Glengarry Glen Ross” opened Saturday at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, a few steps from his latest play, “The Anarchist.”
Within a block, you can see Mamet’s past and present. And that may be unnerving for a man this brilliant. “The Anarchist” was roasted by critics and will limp off the stage after just 40 performances. It will be survived by a 30-year-old ghost, a play as lively as “The Anarchist” was arid.
“Glengarry Glen Ross,” a foul-mouthed brilliantly created and insightful look at men in the modern work place, is drenched in testosterone and verbal trickery, whereas “The Anarchist,” a long-winded conversation between an inmate and a warden, was unexciting and lifeless.
But lifeless is not the first word that comes to mind while watching director Daniel Sullivan’s fresh look at two days in the lives of four desperate Chicago real estate salesmen. Sullivan and his first rate cast plumb the play for its humor, so often lost amid the darkness and paranoia others have chosen to tease out.
This “Glengarry Glen Ross” is a hoot. The timing is pretty good too: Florida real estate and horrible desperation in offices is now in vogue.
The big star, of course, is Al Pacino, who plays Shelly “The Machine” Levene, the once-winning-but-now-struggling salesman. Pacino and Sullivan last teamed up with “The Merchant of Venice” on Broadway and they risk the same result: Pacino is Pacino and, by definition, unbalances any production.
Here he works hard to be meek and chummy and desperate and mostly succeeds, though it’s hard not to think you’re watching Al Pacino working hard to be meek and chummy and desperate.
His eyes bulge, he plays with his hair, he takes long pauses while staring to get his point across — he bobs up and down in the Mamet dialogue, sometimes relishing the theatricality of the role and other times losing himself in it. That matches the Levene character, who is down and then up, then down again. Pacino’s eyes blaze triumphantly when he’s the cat, but later he is piteous as the mouse, begging “listen. Just one moment.”
The rest of the cast is first-rate: Richard Schiff, who played fidgety Toby Ziegler on “The West Wing,” is hysterical as the manipulative George Aaronow; David Harbour, of “The Coast of Utopia,” is lovely as the crumbling office manager; John C. McGinley, the abrasive senior doctor on “Scrubs,” is wonderfully clueless as Dave Moss; and Jeremy Shamos, who got a Tony Award nomination for “Clybourne Park,” is heartbreaking as a weak-willed customer.
It falls to Bobby Cannavale from “The Motherf----- With the Hat” to become the gravitational force holding the scenes together and he steps up with a first-rate Richard Roma, a role played by Pacino in a film version. Cannavale is perfectly cast — a snarling good-looking, swaggering actor who can also be a goodfella, a nice listener if you’ve got a problem.
He reels in Shamos’ character in the first act with such slick bravado that it’s no wonder checkbooks open around town. In Act 2, Cannavale’s slick-backed cool — “let’s talk about you” — is dropped as his Roma rails against the office manager and the police officer investigating a break-in at the office.
Mamet is back — but maybe not the way he wanted. “Glengarry Glen Ross” is a reminder of his potential. His present languid, overly intellectual work, will, to steal a phrase from this old show, “always be closing.”
David Mamet’s 1984 Pulitzer Prize winner “Glengarry Glen Ross,” about ruthless salesmen, can grab you by the throat and punch you in the gut.
It’s a powerful play.
But the new Broadway production just gives you a nudge. That’s better than nothing in this season of mostly meaningless Broadway plays, but you'd expect more from a production that delayed the opening a month.
A lot of that has to do with Al Pacino, the star of the show.
Pacino is a terrific actor and gave a riveting performance two years ago in “The Merchant of Venice.”
But as Shelly Levene, a dinosaur who can’t close a deal, Pacino seems small and insignificant.
As much as Pacino resorts to trademark tricks — bugging his eyes, talking in falsetto, sticking out his gut — he’s not able to generate much empathy for Shelly, who represents the price of American commerce.
As the result, the play simmers when it wants to boil.
The story covers two days in the lives of professional shysters trying to sell dubious real estate properties.
As Richard Roma, the alpha salesman in a fancy suit and with slicked-back hair, Bobby Cannavale raises the testosterone level and the volume. Pacino played this role in the 1992 film.
Rounding out the cast are David Harbour, John C. McGinley, Richard Schiff and Murphy Guyer. They’re all fine.
As Roma’s mark, Jeremy Shamos stands out because of his quiet, believable performance.
The play is directed by Daniel Sullivan. The nondescript sets are by Eugene Lee.
Seven years ago, a finely tuned production of “Glengarry Glen Ross” starring Liev Schreiber and Alan Alda and directed by Joe Mantello won the Tony.
Perhaps these producers should have left it at that.
It’s nice to see the folks behind the new Broadway revival of “Glengarry Glen Ross” get on the immersive-theater bandwagon. A premium seat is $377, while a cup of soda will set you back $10: Getting fleeced should put you in just the right mood to see David Mamet’s 1983 play about shady hucksters and flimflam men.
Of course, the one reason those ticket prices are so high is because Al Pacino’s in the show. Let’s face it: The masses aren’t clamoring for more Mamet — exhibit A: “The Anarchist,” which is closing two weeks after opening. And we can’t be that starved for “Glengarry,” last seen here less than seven years ago, in an acclaimed production starring Alan Alda and Liev Schreiber.
So it’s all about Pacino, and guess what? He’s good. Not awesomely, life-changingly good. Just good.
The actor’s on familiar terrain here: He appeared in the 1992 movie adaptation as Ricky Roma, the alpha male in a Chicago office of B-list real-estate agents.
Now the 72-year-old Pacino is old enough to play Shelly “The Machine” Levene, the sad sack desperate for one last sale. In turn, Roma’s played by the capable Bobby Cannavale (“The Motherf**ker with the Hat,” TV’s “Boardwalk Empire”).
Pacino’s slow to get started — a problem since he’s key to the first scene, which sets the mood for the entire show.
In the Chinese restaurant where the guys hang out, Levene badgers, baits, begs and finally tries to bribe office manager John Williamson (David Harbour) to feed him “prime leads” to potential clients. The whole play’s here: the small-time deals, the do-or-die need to “get on the board” where sales are recorded, all told in fast-paced, profane dialogue.
But Pacino looks unsure of himself, his eyes flickering about in a way that seems unconnected to Levene’s own distress. Uh-oh.
John C. McGinley steps on the gas pedal in the following scene, shifting the play into the necessary high gear. As the manipulative, intimidating salesman Dave Moss, McGinley spits out Mamet’s curses like angry red flares.
But this is a rare high point, even if Pacino eventually finds his mark in the last act, and seems to rumple inside his shabby, shiny suit.
Director Daniel Sullivan, who also helmed Pacino’s “The Merchant of Venice,” may be overly gentle for this misanthropic opera. The production is too flat and restrained for a play that feels more furious and nihilistic than ever.
Everybody here is a hopeless loser: Levene, his timid colleague George Aaronow (Richard Schiff, from “The West Wing”), and James Lingk (Jeremy Shamos, from “Clybourne Park”), a meek and mild mark in Roma’s crosshairs.
Roma may be the strongest salesman of the bunch, but he’s dimly aware that he’s just a small-time operator who has to eat to avoid being eaten. As the “Glengarry” guys pathetically yell “F - - k you!” to each other, you can just feel the bigger predators hover right outside of the frame, ready to unleash their subprime mortgages.
The fight has gone out of the once-robust boys from “Glengarry Glen Ross,” David Mamet’s 1984 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama of sharks in a small pond. Sure, they still curse and rant and beat up on the furniture in the production that formally opened at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater on Saturday night, after an indecently extended preview period.
These hack real estate salesmen also slam doors hard enough to make walls tremble. They mug their way through their foul-mouthed monologues in a style that begs for (and receives) applause. The eldest of their tribe, and this production’s pacesetter, is portrayed by a grizzled Al Pacino with the exaggerated pantomiming of a boozy player in a late-night charades game.
Yet somehow their hearts just don’t seem to be into the business of scamming clients and stabbing one another in the back. It’s as if all the competitive fierceness had been sucked from them by some cosmic super-vacuum cleaner — a product that these forlorn hustlers probably wouldn’t be able to persuade anyone to buy. As salesmen, they’re as worn down and wrung out as Willy Loman at twilight.
That sense of defeat has always lurked beneath the speeding dialogue of “Glengarry.” But in Daniel Sullivan’s deflated production, which also stars Bobby Cannavale as the hotshot Ricky Roma, subtext has been dragged to the surface and beached like a rusty submarine. This is a “Glengarry” for a recessionary age. When a character in the first act mutters, “It’s cold out there now, John. Money is tight,” the lines glare in a way they didn’t in the mid-1980s.
Whether comic or bitter, dialogue is often allowed to resonate in empty air. Unlike any previous “Glengarry” I’ve seen — including the 1992 movie (which starred Mr. Pacino in the role played here by Mr. Cannavale) — this one moves slowly enough to keep you aware, at all times, of the hollowness of its characters’ talk. You may also find yourself newly conscious of plot contrivances and improbabilities.
I can understand why Mr. Sullivan and Mr. Pacino would want to reconceive “Glengarry” on their own terms. The play was given a superb Tony-winning revival in 2005, directed by Joe Mantello, and starring Alan Alda and Liev Schreiber, a highly caffeinated production that left you short of breath. If discerning theatergoers were going to revisit “Glengarry” less than a decade later, they’d surely demand something different.
But “Glengarry” was built for speed. Much of the beauty of this play comes from its revved-up rhythms. (When you read it, the words percolate on the page.) Mr. Mamet created a cast of salesmen who keep themselves alive through their relentless, aggressive talk.
They’re selling lies on a whole lot of levels, and to themselves as well as to their friends, foes and patsies. Relaxing the tension in their spiels is fatal, because that’s when we (and they) hear the falsehood of what they’re saying. They’re pitching as fast as they can out of animal need and instinct.
Though there’s poetry in their obscene talk, the collective sound that rises from them is the din of beasts struggling to survive in Darwin’s jungle. Of course they’re doomed; all animals die eventually. But in the meantime there’s fire in the fight and the friction that makes great theater.
So it comes as a shock here when the first note that’s sounded in the opening scene (set in a seedy Chinese restaurant; Eugene Lee is the designer) is one of senility. Mr. Pacino is Shelly Levene, the faded former star of a fading real-estate office on the North Side of Chicago. He’s trying to convince his boss, John Williamson (David Harbour, in the show’s most convincing performance), to give him better clients.
But why would anyone turn over important business to someone who speaks as falteringly as this guy does? Looking like a bag man coming off a bender, Shelly talks in a fretful, rambling singsong voice that sometimes gets stuck on a word like a phonograph needle. (The inflections seem partly borrowed from Mr. Pacino’s Tony-nominated Shylock in Mr. Sullivan’s brilliant “Merchant of Venice” of two years ago, but with nothing like the same passive-aggressive intensity.)
Mr. Pacino switches gears for the second act, when Shelly shows up in the office triumphant after making a big sale. But though Shelly may be flushed with new confidence, he hardly inspires it. His back bowed, his legs wide apart, he recounts his victory with the expansive, literal-minded gestures of a kindergarten teacher. We have advanced, it seems, from senility to dementia. By the way, it doesn’t look as if Shelly is addressing his fellow employees; his gaze is focused directly on us, the folks out there in the dark.
This performance places Shelly firmly and dominatingly at the center of “Glengarry,” which needs to be a tight ensemble piece. There’s not much the other actors can do to compete with or even balance Mr. Pacino’s grandstanding. Much of the cast — which includes John C. McGinley, Richard Schiff and Jeremy Shamos — goes for obvious laughs in line readings.
Mr. Cannavale, an electric presence in the “The ____________ With the Hat” last year, should be a natural for Roma, the cock-of-the-walk sales star. Yet he never feels as dangerous or as seductive as he needs to be here. Instead he brings to mind a strutting Damon Runyon-style gangster; you expect him to break out with, “What’s playing at the Roxy? I’ll tell you what’s playing at the Roxy.”
The production’s strange combination of comic shtick and existential weariness makes it feel rather like a long-running sitcom being filmed before a live audience that knows its characters’ signature tics and flourishes by heart. That may well be what the Broadway public of today wants. This “Glengarry” has been selling out (in more ways than one) since its early previews. When I saw the show, the audience stopped it frequently to give ovations for blustery tirades.
What with the closing notice already posted for Mr. Mamet’s dreary new play “The Anarchist,” which opened last week, this season has not been kind to one of America’s greatest living playwrights. And yes, he still deserves to be thus described. Read “Glengarry” again, and you’ll understand why. Just don’t expect to find the evidence on Broadway this year.
When Al Pacino does a play, nothing happens thoughtlessly. As everyone knows who has seen him gnaw through decades of theater roles like a pit bull on an ankle, Pacino pummels his way into a character with obsessive discipline and, often, equally mesmerizing weirdness.
Knowing this, it is hard not to look deeper into Pacino's surprisingly small performance in the hot-ticket revival of "Glengarry Glen Ross" -- a portrayal that dares to disappoint people paying up to nearly $400 to watch him be possessed again by David Mamet's 1984 Pulitzer-winning motor-mouth masterwork.
The play, directed with more emotional naturalism than stylized virtuosic flash by Daniel Sullivan, remains joyously mean-spirited -- giddy with exhilarating patter and poetic dirty talk about cons in a small-potatoes real-estate office.
Ever since the 1992 movie, Pacino has been identified as the most extravagant character, Ricky Roma, the sleazy and triumphant hustler who leads the sales contest for a Cadillac. But Pacino has moved up a generation and down on the food chain now to be Shelly Levene, the aging loser played by Jack Lemmon in the film and by Alan Alda in Joe Mantello's leaner, hungrier, scarier 2005 revival.
Where the others played Shelly as a former star salesman in a slump, Pacino appears to see him more as a broken man, almost frail, with a sad way of fidgeting with his colorless hair as he begs for survival. It is a hard to believe this Shelly was once so slick he was nicknamed "the machine," but easy to be moved by him as a descendant of Willy Loman in what I believe is America's other great salesman tragedy.
Now Ricky is played -- wonderfully -- by the riveting Bobby Cannavale as an omnivorous, too-big-for-the-tank shark wearing a silver suit and a crooked smile. John C. McGinley is especially dazzlingly as the hothead who plans the office crime, while Richard Schiff embodies utter despair as a worker-bee who never tasted greatness. David Harbour has the petty confidence of the self-interested naif of a boss.
The play, which runs less than two hours with an intermission, feels less furious than melancholy -- and, yes, more thoughtful -- this time around.
No Broadway production this season arrived with a more prestigious collective pedigree than the revival of Glengarry Glen Ross (*** out of four) that opened Saturday at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre.
In this staging of David Mamet's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, the estimable Daniel Sullivan directs an assemblage of gifted stage and screen veterans — among them Al Pacino, whom Sullivan last guided on stage in a stunning The Merchant of Venice.
Pacino also has a longstanding connection to Glengarry: In the 1992 screen version, he memorably played Richard "Ricky" Roma, the slick alpha dog in a Chicago real estate office filled with salesmen struggling to preserve their jobs and sense of manhood. Now, at 72, he's cast as Shelly Levene, a former hotshot reduced to pleading for better leads. Bobby Cannavale, 30 years younger and one of the most consistently exciting actors of his generation, plays Roma.
It would be hard to name two performers who seem better suited to the gritty, jazzy music of Mamet's dialogue, and they are joined here by such vital players as Richard Schiff, David Harbour and John C. McGinley, who blazes through the part of office bully Dave Moss.
But Glengarry demands something more than raw dynamism. It's essential that we feel the desperation that propels Levene and his colleagues, even nipping at Roma's polished heels. While Sullivan and his cast convey the brutality of the men's work environment, they don't always nail the crackling wit — or the sense of personal futility that haunts these guys.
Some exchanges seem either too studied or overeager, so that the humor registers as more boisterous than caustic. The comedy and pathos in Glengarry are interwoven; we should be able to laugh at these characters even as they humiliate and endanger themselves and each other. But there are times when the jousting fails to sting or threatens to veer into slapstick — and when Pacino's delivery, in particular, borders on mugging.
Yet the star's performance can be nuanced, too, and intricately human. In the first scene, where Levene appeals to his reluctant office manager — played by a simmering Harbour — he's both a hustler and a beggar, obnoxious and pitiable, relentless and broken. Pacino continues to juggle those qualities in the second act, which occurs after an office robbery and finds Levene by turns triumphant and utterly defeated.
Schiff and Jeremy Shamos also have affecting moments as, respectively, a salesman whose lack of gumption or self-respect gets him into trouble, and a mousy civilian whom Roma seduces into a transaction he later regrets. Predictably, Cannavale captures Roma's feral charisma; he also manages a funny, at times almost tender rapport with Pacino's Levene.
It's not every day that you get to see such top-notch performers play hardball onstage, and their flashes of electricity sustain this imperfect Glengarry.
Al Pacino may be pulling them in for David Mamet's 1984 Pulitzer Prize-winning ode to American con artistry, "Glengarry Glen Ross," but the guy who's blowing them away is Bobby Cannavale, a live wire in the role played by Pacino in the 1992 film version. Show's hefty $377 tab for prime ducats and the long-delayed opening provided much grist for the gossip mill. But despite production flaws, in this post-Recession era of mortgage foreclosures and crooked real estate deals, it's a treat to revisit the best American play ever written about merciless men and their predatory business practices.
The play's two pivotal characters are Shelly Levene (Pacino), the washed-up and desperate agent who was at one time the sparkplug in his Chicago real-estate firm, and Richard Roma (Cannavale), the current cock of the walk, trained by Shelly and still loyal to his old mentor.
The outfit they work for sells worthless shares in Florida real-estate properties to unwary marks. (Eugene Lee's shabby 1980s office set conveys the soulless nature of the place.) The business is sleazy enough, but the sadistic owners have turned it into a blood sport by dangling cash bonuses and Cadillac cars at their ruthlessly competitive salesmen.
The charismatic Ricky has made it to the top of the board (winning himself the most promising leads on the suckers list) by lying, cheating, bullying, and shrewdly reading the minds of the clients he dazzles with his magnetic personality. Watching his seduction of one of these innocent rubes (played by Jeremy Shamos with the pathos of a little lamb being prepared for chops) is to observe a master psychologist at work.
Cannavale is dream casting for Ricky. Hair all slicked back and strutting around in the flash suits and loud shirts designed by Jess Goldstein, he blows through Mamet's brilliantly filthy language like a gale force wind. It's a big performance from a powerhouse performer, and when he turns in a rage on John Williamson, the beleaguered office manager played with amazing control by David Harbour, it's also a scary one.
Pacino is a more restless performer, drawing on his nervous energy to prowl the stage as Shelly, as if he were leading the hard-luck salesman in panicky flight from the frantic thoughts buzzing in his brain. Given the constant anxiety Pacino projects, it's electrifying when he stops spinning and actually sits down, allowing Shelly a quiet moment to absorb a devastating piece of bad news. Collapsing into the folds of his shiny black suit, thesp turns his haggard face to the audience and gives us a look that makes us believe in the existence of hell.
It's an entirely valid interpretation of the character, but it doesn't much serve the tight ensemble format of the play as Mamet designed it, and it complicates helmer Daniel Sullivan's uneven efforts to impose a consistent acting style on his production.
Individually, not one of the well-picked performers can be faulted. John C. McGinley is wonderfully vile as Dave Moss, the resentful salesman who gets apoplectic when he thinks of how far behind he's fallen in the race for sales, and Richard Schiff is pathetic, in an absurdly funny way, as the downtrodden victim of Moss's scheme to stage a robbery and steal those precious leads.
But even these high-powered salesmen fail to make this sale.