F-bombs away: Michael O’Neill and Todd Panek in Wit’s End Players’ Glengarry Glen Ross. MICHAEL DAVIS PHOTO
Born out of Mamet’s experience working in a Chicago real estate office, Glengarry Glen Ross
concerns four unprincipled salesmen who scramble to sell overpriced
land in Florida to suckers with open wallets. The most productive
salesmen are rewarded with the best leads, names of qualified and
willing buyers, those targeted to buy into the classy-sounding
Glengarry Highlands and Glen Ross Farms. The sales standings are posted
on a board in the office, and the omens are very clear.
Middle-aged Shelley Levine is in a slump, and his job is
on the line. He hasn’t made a sale for a while, and his daughter
suffers from some unnamed problem that demands his attention.
Desperate, he begs manager John Williamson for some of the prime leads.
Star salesman Ricky Roma, who is poised to win the Cadillac offered to
the top man, burrows expertly under the skin of the hapless mark who
may put him over. Meanwhile, the third member of the team, Dave Moss,
tries to convince the nebbishy George Aaronow to take radical action to
assure their future.
A prime example of Mamet’s famous use of vulgarity and rhythmic dialogue, Glengarry Glen Ross explodes
onto the stage in a series of profane arias of aggression and
desperation. In this world of high pressure sales a man is either young
or old; there’s no place for middle age. Under their sharp suits and
power ties, this sales force is really a tribe of cavemen on the hunt.
They must stalk and kill their prey to survive. The weak are devoured.
This struggle defines manhood for them. When Roma feels betrayed by a
blunder by Williamson, he roars in rebuke and sudden realization that
“It’s not a world of men.”
Director David Witanowski carefully guides his cast through the dangerous waters of Mamet’s drama. Glengarry
is a deceptively difficult show, and the attempt itself requires
fortitude and demands admiration. The play’s main plot point, the
cutthroat sales contest, is easily obscured by the verbal fireworks, a
problem Mamet himself addressed in the 1992 movie version, by inventing
a new character played by an electrifying Alec Baldwin to clarify
matters. When the Wit’s End production clicks, the effect is bracing,
and the dialogue stings like a slap in the face. Occasionally, however,
some line readings are tentative, and the rhythms of speech, as
precious to Glengarry as the elusive leads, are off, violating Mamet’s vulgar poetics.
Michael O’Neill gives a bravura performance as Shelley
Levine. From the first moments of the production, O’Neill ably charts
the fall of this latter-day Willy Loman, subtly adjusting the
salesman’s aggressive body language with each setback. By the end of
the play, he still has the grace of a closer, but through his eyes we
see that he has crumbled.
The pinkie-ringed Todd Panek cuts an impressive figure as
the motormouth sales star Ricky Roma. Although the role is demanding
and he occasionally runs out of steam, Panek bravely dives into Roma’s
baroque monologues, working as hard to win the audience as to make a
sale. As his performance gathers steam, he closes the deal.
As the devious Moss, Josh Mele catches the musicality of
the language. His first-act scene with Dan Tursi as the hapless Aaronow
is a brawny pas de deux between two actors who know how to shape a
scene. Although he’s convincing as a denizen of this office, as a
sparring partner in Glengarry’s war of words, Peter Irwin’s Williamson doesn’t always provide the verbal punch to push the drama.
In supporting roles, Casey Ryan does yeoman’s work as
James Lingk, Roma’s prey, metaphorically chewing off his own foot in an
attempt to escape a trap, and Rob Lescarbeau fills the macho bill as
the police investigator Baylen.
Glengarry Glen Ross speaks in the fragmentary,
coded language of men, but lurking beneath the creative turns of
vulgarity is an indictment of the American way of business, a system
where ruthless success is rewarded by more success, piling up a huge
moral debt, until, as we’ve seen in recent months, the whole thing
This production runs through Jan. 31. See Times Table for information.