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Critic: Simon Saltzman. Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on February
23, 2000. All rights
McCarter Review: `Glengarry Glen Ross’
On my way up the aisle of the McCarter Theater, I heard
the following exchange:
He: How many times did you hear fuck you?
She: 150 times.
He: Oh, so you were counting?
already slipped into the vernacular to become the modern-day street
talk equivalent of hail and farewell and everything in between, David
Mamet won the 1984 Pulitzer Prize for his play "Glengarry Glen
Ross." Those words, among an array of equally vulgar expletives,
are not only an integral part of play’s rich terse prose; they
and distinguish the speech of a quartet of mercenary salesmen.
Even if there is anyone on the planet still able to be shocked by
the avalanche of profanities at the outset will surely succumb to
their earthy, fugue-like lyricism. The audience on opening night not
only succumbed to the dialogue, the performers, and the play itself,
but greeted individual arias (what else can you call them?) and
with show-stopping applause. Not influenced in the least by the
of the audience, I can objectively say this was one of the most
and edifying productions I’ve seen at McCarter in the 20 years I have
been going there.
With incendiary originality, "Glengarry Glen Ross" dramatizes
the personal agendas and general business scruples (or lack of them)
of a group of ruthless wheeler-dealers in the real-estate market,
each with his own plan on how to bilk unsuspecting retirees and the
elderly out of their life-long savings and disposable income. If the
language no longer shocks, it still has the power to aggressively,
purposefully, and humorously propel the various tempers fueled and
cooled throughout the 90 minutes it take for the play to run its
In dramatizing the desperation, uncertainties and volatile conditions
of one salesman’s disintegrating life, Mamet inverts the theme of
Arthur Miller’s classic drama about the loss of the American dream,
and reverts to one of the oldest of all dramatic themes, survival
of the fittest. As directed by Scott Zigler with a tight hold on the
short fuses that ignite the cut-throat behavior and abrasive word
play, "Glengarry" plays out its schemes and a plot centering
on a robbery snugly even in the large expanse of the McCarter stage.
For the play’s two brisk acts, the brilliant designer John Lee Beatty
has evoked the ambiance of an all plum-colored Chinese restaurant,
where you know the food has to be rotten, and a seedy, ransacked and
ravaged real estate office, where you know the deals are all crooked.
Because of its language-propelled plot, "Glengarry" is more
compelling and compact than was the 1992 screen version starring Al
Pacino, Alex Baldwin, and Jack Lemmon. Zigler’s decisive staging shows
us how much more vital and vivid theater can be than anything on a
screen. A former artistic director of the Mamet-founded Atlantic
Company, Zigler, who directed Mamet’s "The Old Neighborhood"
on Broadway last season, has made sure every obscenity is dotted and
Elevating, in a sense, his small-time street thugs in "American
Buffalo" from their petty heists and incompetent scheming, to
the high-pressure world of real estate sales, we see feigned literacy,
genuine street smarts, and semi-legalized corruption exalted with
savage wit and perception. There are no good guys and bad guys in
this all-male play — only desperate, hungry men reduced by their
dog-eat-dog profession, and their own insidious brand of ethics, to
luring the unsuspecting, the unwary, and the unwise into making
The title refers to an undeveloped tract of undeveloped Florida
unsuitable for human habitation. If you have ever been subjected to
a pitch by a fast-talking broker to either buy or invest in some
parcel in the Poconos, you will find this dramatic re-encounter a
scathingly funny blow to your gullibility. If this world is foreign
to you, Mamet makes sure, with his realistic but colorful assortment
of characters, to keep you alternately gasping or laughing. Much of
the success of this production may be attributed to the often
pulse racing acting by a top-notch cast, all of whom seem quite at
home with the tone and tempi, under Zigler’s virtuoso command.
Mamet’s cleverly melodramatic plot involves a scheme,
a robbery, an investigation, and a surprise ending. Charles Durning,
who was so endearingly cantankerous in the recent Broadway revival
of "The Gin Game," gives a riveting chill to Shelley Levene;
the panicking old-timer whose "closings" are getting wider
apart and his chances for "getting on the board" growing
The place each salesman gets on "the board" depends on his
sales record and determines whether he ends up with a Cadillac, a
set of steak knives, or without a job. Akin to showing us the
of Miller’s Willie Loman, Durning (who has the belly to show it),
gives Levene’s disintegration a stunning tragi-comical edge.
With an impressive career marked by a Tony for his role as Big Daddy
in "Cat On a Hot Tin Roof," and memorable performances in
"Inherit the Wind," and "That Championship Season,"
Durning ironically has the opportunity in his role of a once mighty
now sinking salesman to boast to his fellow workers of his past
Unlike Levene, Durning can go on boasting. Durning’s astonishing
builds decisively during the play and hits his peak as he relates
with hypnotic intensity to another, but much younger, salesman Roma
(Ruben Santiago-Hudson) how he used his unique sales pitch and
to get an old couple to sign away their savings.
Ruben Santiago-Hudson, who won the Tony in 1966 for his performance
as a glib, philosophical musician in August Wilson’s "Seven
is excellent as Roma, another sort of philosopher, one whose smarmy
smooth-talking gobbledygook wears down his prey. Daniel Benzali plays
Moss, the loud-mouth schemer who cooks up a plot to rob the office
of its buyer leads. Praised for his performances in the London
of "Evita" (as Peron), and "Sunset Boulevard" (as
Max), but probably more recognizable to McCarter audiences for his
starring role in the late TV series "Murder One," Benzali
also stops the show with the kind of double talk that precludes a
Less bravura in his manner, Sam Coppola plays the washout Aaronow,
the most easily intimidated of the sleazy sales force. Coppola gives
us a lesson in how to convey more by saying less, especially in a
ferociously funny, almost one-sided duologue with Moss at the bar
in the restaurant. One of the most focused and provocative
comes from Jordan Lage, who, so cagily icy as the arrogant
and hated office manager, brings in Baylen (Lionel Mark Smith), a
no-nonsense detective, to solve the crime. Steven Goldstein makes
the most of his role as a witless taxi driver duped by Moss into
a sales contract.
Much of the enjoyment of the play is in watching these men lash out
at each other. But, like a pack of starving wolves, they make sharp
distinctions between the clan and their prey. Because the streamlined
body of the play is so ripe with ironies and relentless in its
the conclusion seems to come without warning. But, I suppose wanting
more is always a good sign. F — – y — , if you miss this one.
— Simon Saltzman
Place, 609-258-2787. Performances continue to March 5. $20 to $47.
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