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Glengarry Glenn Ross

There has been a lot of fuss made over the Denver Center Theatre Company's choice in staging what is probably David Mamet's best work, an explication of the ruthless real estate business and the salesmen who drove it relentlessly forward in the mid-80's. Some skeptics fret over its relevancy. Hey, have you been paying attention to the role of sub-prime lending in the current economic "crisis"? Other skeptics fret over its profanity. Twenty-five years out from its debut, at a time when rap expletives can be heard pounding from car radios at almost any stoplight, the language is hardly shocking and—given Mamet's mastery of the spoken word—is a remarkable, ear-opening versification of every-day speech.

Like Death of A Salesman, from which it is descended, the play still has the teeth to devour you from the inside out. Unfortunately, this production doesn't quite attain the oppressive and unrelenting sleaziness that is called for.

(Left to right) Lawrence Hecht as Dave Moss and Michael Santo as George Aaronow
(L to R) Lawrence Hecht as Dave Moss
and Michael Santo as George Aaronow
Photo credit: Terry Shapiro
Right from the top, the Chinese restaurant in the first act looks too upscale for the neighborhood. Where is the grease and grime that goes hand-in-hand with worn Chicago neighborhoods and the El that runs nearby? This should feel like a Hopper nightscape. And the office, for all the paper on the floor, never convinces us that a reckless and revengeful burglary has taken place.

The solid ensemble does a workmanlike job insulting and cajoling each other, and spilling their guts out, but somehow the stakes never seem to reach the life and death precipices to which the script is capable. It's as if we are one step removed from the gut-wrenching fear that drives these men.

(Left to right) Chris Hietikko as Baylen, Ian Merrill Peakes as Richard Roma, Vince Nappo as John Williamson, and Mike Hartman as Shelly Levene
(L to R) Chris Hietikko as Baylen,
Ian Merrill Peakes as Richard Roma,
Vince Nappo as John Williamson,
and Mike Hartman as Shelly Levene
Photo credit: Terry Shapiro
Even in the intimate Ricketson Theatre, the actors' confrontations and their physical proximity to each other and to the audience does not feel in-your-face threatening. We know the electricity is there, waiting to be switched on—we saw it last fall in London—but we never get sizzled, only zapped.

Still, we walk away smarting from the raw desperation of these people, their willingness to lie and prostitute themselves for such a pittance, and from the sheer monolithic power of the daily economic pressure behind all this. It's the same unreferenced elephant in the room that the Congress, the executive branch, and the financiers are refusing to discuss. In Glengarry, Glen Ross, instead of the world at its crossroads, it's Shelly ("the Machine") Levene (Mike Hartman), a one-time fast-thinking, smooth-talking, hot-shot lot salesman for a succession of suburban real estate developments.

(Left to right) Vince Nappo as John Williamson and Mark Hartman as Shelly Levene
(L to R) Vince Nappo as John Williamson
and Mike Hartman as Shelly Levene
Photo credit: Terry Shapiro
Mamet's scene work gets right to the point just like his language, making the play a perfect blend of form and content. Though it's performed without intermission in about 85 minutes, it's comprised of two acts: three scenes in a restaurant and one scene in the office. In the first scene, Levene grovels, scolds, and patronizes John Williamson (Vince Nappo), the sales/office manager, trying to squeeze some decent leads out of him.

Hartman deftly handles Levene's extreme mood swings and strategic vacillations. The scene is a hologram of the play itself. Williamson derives his power in the office and in conversation by keeping everything close-to-the-vest, and Nappo gives us a palpable sense of Williamson's cutthroat instincts, held just below the surface for that key moment when they will have the most impact.

Director Marco Barricelli's choice in casting Nappo as Williamson works emotionally, but physically seems to take away the threat of a fight, which, along with the set choices, accounts for the limitations previously discussed.

(Left to right) James Michael Reilly as James Lingk and Ian Merrill Peakes as Richard Roma
(L to R) James Michael Reilly
as James Lingk
and Ian Merrill Peakes
as Richard Roma
Photo credit: Terry Shapiro
If you've never been slimed by a silver-tongued reptile, then Ian Merrill Peakes' work as Richard Roma—the current star of this woebegone salesforce and the fittest of this strangely intriguing, yet repulsive species—will mesmerize you with his slithering disposition and liguistic legerdemain.

Solid supporting work—from Lawrence Hecht as the belligerant Dave Moss and Michael Santo as the maleable George Aaronow, the other two fellas in the office, plus James Michael Reilly as the putz, James Lingk, Roma's pigeon, and Chris Hietikko, as the tough Chicago detective, Baylen—keeps the pressure on.

Mike Hartman as Shelly Levene
Mike Hartman
as Shelly Levene
Photo credit: Terry Shapiro
Most remarkable, though, is the efficiency of Mamet's metaphor, capturing the milieu of Homo economus in a nutshell. The house always wins, of course, because they're printing the money and making a profit coming and some interest going, or in this case, divvying out the leads to the hottest pusher.

The Denver Center Theatre Company's production of Glengarry Glen Ross runs through November 22nd. 303-893-4100.






Bob Bows

 

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