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Theater Review: ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’

Everybody’s got to make a living

By Diana Barth Created: December 10, 2012 Last Updated: December 15, 2012
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Al Pacino appears as Shelly Levene in David Mamet’s 1983 Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Glengarry Glen Ross,” now on Broadway. (Scott Landis)

Al Pacino appears as Shelly Levene in David Mamet’s 1983 Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Glengarry Glen Ross,” now on Broadway. (Scott Landis)

NEW YORK—At last a fire has cast its flame over Broadway’s recent pale season. It’s the revival of David Mamet’s 1983 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “Glengarry Glen Ross,” with director Daniel Sullivan running the show—and Al Pacino taking center stage in a star turn.

Always an engrossing performer, Pacino’s often face-front style here may minimize what one may call the accuracy of Mamet’s intent—to show an ensemble at work. Nevertheless, the show is an in-your-face entertainment from start to finish.

Mainly set in a sleazy real estate office in Chicago back in the 1980s, the first scene takes place in a run-down Chinese restaurant (appropriately tacky sets by Eugene Lee), where salesman Shelly Levene (Al Pacino) is trying to wheedle his way into the good graces of his cool (in the emotional sense) boss, John (a subtle and excellent David Harbour).

Shelly, formerly known as “The Machine,” has hit some hard times lately, but it’s all due, he insists, to the bad leads that John’s been throwing his way. Shelly is not above rewarding John with a nifty percentage of his future takes, hopefully with John’s cooperation.

John, not exactly a sympathetic type, raises the ante to make it really worth his while. Shelly, who is alternately pushy and groveling, swallows whatever pride he may have left and agrees to the deal.

Back in the office, the spiffiest of the motley crew of conmen, doing their best to inveigle clueless clients into buying junky real estate in Florida, is Richard (Ricky) Roma, played by a truly dazzling Bobby Cannavale.

Roma, with black hair slickly pasted down on his head, attired in a mafioso-like suit, struts about like royalty. And in the men’s minds, he is. His sales record holds top slot on the blackboard that graces the dilapidated office.

Another “gem” of manhood, Dave Moss (John C. McGinley), erupts in a temper tantrum when things don’t go right for him. George Aaronow (Richard Schiff) is another loser. Adding a gentler note to the gang of cons is the appearance of James Lingk (a very good Jeremy Shamos), who shamefacedly informs the guys that his wife has forced him to renege on their recent deal made with Ricky.

Here Ricky displays his enormous psychological skill in “comforting” a customer, which usually causes the client to do an about-face and let the deal go through. But there’s been a slip-up, apparently by John, and chaos reigns.

Further, this is an unusual time: Someone has trashed the office, walked off with the telephones and, more importantly, the list of leads. A detective, Baylen (Murphy Guyer), is interviewing all the men, one by one, in another room.

The denouement is painful to watch, as the play’s tone goes from satire and comedy to near tragedy.

It’s been a wild ride, with the audience at the performance I saw (matinee preceding opening night) giving a heartfelt standing ovation to the entire cast.

Mamet’s play holds up admirably. In addition to portraying the specifics of the particular characters and situation, it extrapolates to the larger, universal, and contemporary world: Here’s what vicious competition and greed can do to people.

Here are comedy, drama, and poignancy. One can’t ask for much more in a night at the theater.

‘Glengarry Glen Ross’
Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre
236 West 45th Street
Running Time: l hour, 45 minutes
Tickets: 212-239-6200 or visit Telecharge.com
Closes: Jan. 20, 2013

Diana Barth writes and publishes “New Millennium,” an arts publication. For information: www.diabarth@juno.com

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