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New York City Theater

"Glengarry Glen Ross"
Gerald Schoenfeld Theater

It’s a guy thing. The free use of four and 12-letter words, the male-male sexual innuendos, the mean-spirited one-upmanship, so brilliantly given life in David Mamet’s 1984 Pulitzer Prize drama, “Glengarry Glen Ross.” A scant seven years after its most recent revival, it’s back again for a limited engagement after an extended preview period.

Not only is it a sellout smash, it long ago recouped its investment. No wonder, since it stars Al Pacino in a scenery-chewing performance that makes mincemeat of what was once an ensemble piece. And audiences are eating it up, whooping with giddy delight at every cuss word they surely must have learned as early as grade school.

Do they care if the production’s lofty ticket prices belie its theme, which is an indictment of capitalistic greed, of stab-in-the-back success at any cost? Do they even get the point that these gonifs, so desperate for a sale – they’re real estate salesmen peddling worthless property – would commit every deadly sin ten times over if it helped their bottom line?

Mamet’s set-up is dazzling. In the first of three back-to-back scenes in a Chinese restaurant, down-and-nearly-out Shelly Levene tries to bamboozle office manager John Williamson into giving him leads of potential clients. Pacino, as Levene, squirms, whines and runs his fingers through his hair.

In Act Two, this defeated man actually seems to shrink into himself. The performance is well thought out, which isn’t the same as saying it’s particularly effective or moving, as Jack Lemmon’s was in the film version.

Two other salesmen appear next: Dave Moss (the wonderful John C. McGinley) tries to enlist the reticent George Aaronow to stage an office break-in. In the third part, hot-shot, scheming Richard Roma (a dazzling Bobby Cannavale) manipulates milquetoastish James Lingk (an equally fine Jeremy Shamos) into signing a deal. Everything comes to a head in the second half, where a break-in is being investigated (the perpetrator remains a mystery to the end) and schemes unravel.

This tough, cruel and unyielding play deserves a more nuanced interpretation than given here under Daniel Sullivan’s direction. These rascals, for all their fierceness, are puppets ruled by overlords not above pushing them to the breaking point. They respond in the only curse-laden way they know, with broken lines and unfinished thoughts.

It’s male bonding to the extreme, equivalent to locker-room snap-the-towel hijinks. “Whoever told you you could work with men?” asks the sarcastic Roma a question we might ask in reverse of Mamet, whose women characters, are, when they interact with men, pawns in dark, angry, bitter, greedy worlds.

Except when they’re lesbians, as they are in no less than three Mamet works: “Boston Marriage,” “November” and “The Anarchist.” It’s a topic bearing further exploration, especially in dissecting the fast flop of ”The Anarchist,” which opened at the beginning of December and, despite the presence of Patti LuPone and Debra Winger as political and sexual rivals, was gone in two weeks.

A long-winded account of a parole hearing between a one-time revolutionary and her interrogator, “The Anarchist” stirs thoughts of Mamet’s 2011 mea culpa book of essays, “The Secret Knowledge,” in which the self-described ”brain-dead liberal” speaks as a newly-minted conservative. When it first appeared, the book was thoroughly excoriated by Christopher Hitchens. The latter’s death last year deprived us of what might have been an exhilarating smack-down to rival the Chicago-flavored fisticuffs we get whiffs of in this latest “Glengarry.”

-- David A. Rosenberg
Jan. 10, 2013

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