Theater

'Glengarry' at 20: Recent Upgrades, Xlnt Condition

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By Peter Marks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 2, 2005

NEW YORK -- Here's news to lighten the spirit: "Glengarry Glen Ross" is still one nasty piece of work. David Mamet's bilious portrait of a real estate office rife with foulmouthed, preening hustlers remains as invigoratingly sour as it was in its first Broadway incarnation 20 years ago.

Alan Alda and Liev Schreiber on Broadway in a stunning revival of
Alan Alda and Liev Schreiber on Broadway in a stunning revival of "Glengarry Glen Ross."( - JEFFREY RICHARDS ASSOCIATES)
The funny, quicksilver revival that opened last night at the Royale Theatre throws juicy bone after bone to half a dozen ravenous actors who chew each down greedily to the marrow. In the short, cutting vignettes of the first act and the longer scene that envelops the entire ensemble in the second, they hurl Mamet's insults and epithets at one another with venomous precision. The banter is so callous and sardonic, you could sit through it happily all day.

Many of the roles are choice, and the actors filling them are terrifically chosen. Some offbeat casting decisions pay off grandly, as in the selection of Tom Wopat, virtually unrecognizable in wavy silver hair and spectacles, to play the hapless victim of "Glengarry's" slickest huckster. Gordon Clapp invests Moss, the office malcontent, with a fiery degree of envy, and Jeffrey Tambor, as George, a gloomy sad sack of housing sales, is Clapp's low-key, ideally matched opposite.

More rewarding still is Alan Alda's grandly comic turn as Shelly Levene, the glad-handing former high earner whose eagerness to climb back on top smells ever more pathetically of desperation. Best of all, however, is the remarkable Liev Schreiber, in the most seductive performance he's given to date. His Richard Roma, the shark in the starched white collar, is every repulsively overconfident salesman you've ever had the misfortune to lock eyes with, the sort whose spiel instantly has you scanning the room nervously for the nearest exit.

Under director Joe Mantello's crafty stewardship, the play sizzles to life as fast as the curtain can rise on a pleasingly plush Chinese restaurant designed by Santo Loquasto. It's here that the three brief scenes of Act 1 take place, vignettes that reveal to us the locker room mentality that guides the men through their world of insincerity. It's an insecure universe, too, one in which older men gaze anxiously over their shoulders at their younger colleagues, who are only too happy to cast them overboard. In this world, winning is everything; earning money is merely a way to keep score.

Each of the three scenes involves a kind of sales pitch. In the first, Alda's Shelly -- "Levene the Machine" -- who can't close deals the way he used to, tries to talk the bloodless young office head (Frederick Weller) into sending some of the most promising buyers, or leads, his way. In the second, Clapp's Moss attempts to enlist Tambor's downtrodden George in a scheme to steal the leads and sell them to a competitor. And then it's Schreiber's turn, in a wonderful episode that has him drawing a schlemiel at an adjacent table effortlessly into his web. (The nifty way in which lighting designer Kenneth Posner throws light in Wopat's face makes him look pastier and all the more gullible.) The second act opens in the real estate office -- Loquasto conceives it as a seedy dump of plywood walls and fluorescent lights -- where a police investigation into the missing leads is underway. The shoddiness of the place is itself a kind of joke: Who in his right mind would do business with someone employed in this fly-by-night environment?

Gordon Clapp, left, and Jeffrey Tambor as ideally matched opposites in
Gordon Clapp, left, and Jeffrey Tambor as ideally matched opposites in "Glengarry Glen Ross" on Broadway.
Weller's John Williamson -- even the name is colorless -- may occupy the only office with a door, but it is Shelly and Roma who set the tone for the operation, and they talk down to John. They're the ballplayers, the free agents. He's just the team accountant. Alda plays off his own trademark affability to lovely effect. It's gratifying to see the way his life as an actor is still evolving, and you can tell he's enjoying it, too. When he breathlessly relates the tale of Shelly's latest career-salvaging exploit, talking a couple into the unwise purchase of eight units in some questionable Florida housing development, it's easy to see how a Cheshire cat grin might have gotten him in the door -- and a signature on the dotted line.

Schreiber, however, is the incontestable alpha male here. His is a superb physical performance, virtually balletic in the smooth way he talks with his hands. And in two virtuoso moments, he makes "Glengarry" his own. There's a priceless confrontation in the office with Wopat's bewildered James Lingk, who shows up to demand his money back. The scam that Roma tries to run on him, with Shelly's help, is like some tiny, delectable follow-up to "The Sting." (Mamet also tosses in a hilarious bit of saleman's obfuscation, with regard to the state-sanctioned deadline for canceling the deal.) The other great interlude comes after Weller's Williamson inadvertently blows Roma's scam, and Roma responds with a cascade of emasculating invective. "Who ever told you," Schreiber sputters contemptuously, "you could work with men?" Weller, to his credit, swallows it all without a visible response -- as if he were an inmate at the mercy of his jailer.

Of such memorable exchanges are exceptional nights of theater made. And made again.

Glengarry Glen Ross, by David Mamet. Directed by Joe Mantello. Sets, Santo Loquasto; costumes, Laura Bauer; lighting, Kenneth Posner. With Jordan Lage. Approximately 1 hour 50 minutes. Through Aug. 28 at Royale Theatre, 242 W. 45th St., New York. Call 800-432-7250 or visit http://www.telecharge.com/glengarry .


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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