‘Glengarry Glen Ross’
By David Mamet
Directed by Christopher Ashley
La Jolla Playhouse, La Jolla, Calif.
Sept. 18 – Oct. 21, 2012
Middle-class dreams: a good living, a winning lottery ticket, perhaps a place in the country to unwind. David Mamet’s iconic drama “Glengarry Glen Ross” slices through these insipid self-delusions like a lawn mower.
Set in Chicago in 1983, the play spends a quick 24 hours with a group of real-estate salesmen working for the big score by selling questionable properties to hopeful rubes. But the real victims, or so they will tell you, are the salesmen themselves. They battle management, clients, their glorious pasts and their mediocre sales leads. If they could only get the “good” leads, the customers with the money and willingness to buy, everything would be fine.
Shelly Levene (Peter Maloney) is a balding, paunchy sales lifer in the midst of a bad streak. He knows if he could just get those good leads he could turn it around. But it’s a Catch-22: he needs to sell with the bad leads to even get a shot at the good ones. He begs, threatens and cajoles the office manager, John Williamson (Johnny Wu) to get them. The sales pitch is infused in Shelly’s DNA. You get the feeling even a beaten-up Williamson admires the relentless sales attack.
Shelly likes to complain, as do the rest of the burnt-out sales trifecta Dave Moss (James Sutorius) and George Aaronow (Ray Anthony Thomas). The only salesman with any kind of mojo is Richard Roma (Manu Narayan) and the rest of them want it.
The 1992 movie makes staging “Glengarry Glen Ross” an exceptionally tough challenge. How do you compete with Jack Lemmon, Kevin Spacey, Al Pacino, Alan Arkin, Ed Harris and Alec Baldwin? There are times when the La Jolla Playhouse production rises to the occasion, particularly with Roma. Narayan steps up large, imbuing his character with quintessential top-dog sales arrogance. It’s not that he thinks he owns the world; he doesn’t give a shit who owns it.
Maloney’s Levene is also a treat, if a touch melodramatic at times. The interactions between Roma and Levene are the clear highlight. Sutorius also does a nice job as the fast-talking Moss, but the part is so small it quickly recedes to the background. The rest of the cast is mostly forgettable. Wu seems to be going for laconic but only makes it to bored indifference.
Christopher Ashley’s direction is a bit wooden and often predictable. The anger is there but it doesn’t have the volatility you expect from a bitter sales force. By contrast the set, which includes a Chinese restaurant and the office, is outstanding, evoking the decay that is eating away at Shelly and the rest of the salesmen.
On the whole, the Playhouse’s “Glengarry Glen Ross” is an interesting, often amusing take on chronic disappointment. A little spotty, but worthwhile.