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Mamets Glengarry Glen Ross burst onto the American stage some two decades
ago, it exploded with the force of a supernova. The language and in-your-face violence of
these everyday con men and losers defined the Mamet style, creating a kind of grubby Death
of a Salesman without the poetry. Since then, we have become accustomed to the
f-word being slung around our stages and screens (although no one else ever
has used it more than 400 times in two short acts) and deals are more likely to be closed
with a click of the mouse than a sweating salesman in shirtsleeves hovering with a
contract and a pen.
Nevertheless, Mamets saga of sleazy real estate hucksters out to make a buck regardless of the cost to their souls, might still resonate with contemporary audiences, given the proper conditions. The new production at American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco doesnt quite do the job. In the hands of director Les Waters, Mamets pyrotechnics seem merely a blip on the screen of our consciousness something of an anachronism, much ado about very little. In spite of his impressive international credentials, Waters, who is a theater professor at UC San Diego, seems to have missed the point. Energy the kind of dangerous energy that a cast headed by Joe Mantegna brought to the original Goodman Theater Chicago premiere all those years ago.
Not that this cast isnt able. There are some very good people working out there on the ACT stage. But most of them holler and rant, rather than convince. There is less sense of truth and a feeling that, after all, we are just watching a play. James Carpenter, a fine actor, is almost wasted as a hapless, inarticulate Everyman who finds that these guys dont cheerfully refund your money when you realize youve made a mistake. Rod Gnapp fills the officious office managers shoes with flair. Best of all is Tony Amendola as Levene, the aging former sales star who is so desperate for money, he lends himself to the dirtiest of schemes to get it.
Roma, the fast-talking superstar who weaves a web of words to capture his prey, should be the linchpin of the action. Romas energy and charisma is as essential as his heartlessness to the meaning of Mamets fable. Although better in the second act than in his long monologue in Act One, Marco Barricelli just doesnt turn up the wattage necessary for the role. Hes not sufficiently dangerous, nervous or smarmy. He plays Roma rather more like a nice guy who happened to audition for the part of a rat.
Perhaps in time, the seven-man cast, rounded out with John Apicella, Matt Gottleib and Brian Keith Russell in smaller roles, will meld into a true ensemble. But the director has his work cut out for him before they do.
January 10, 2001- Suzanne Weiss