Directed by Todd Tjaden of Los Angeles' Studebaker Studios, UNLV's University Theatre's production of David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross changes the "gang comedy" to the point of caricature by casting women in four of its seven roles.
Glengarry Glen Ross
By David Mamet
University of Nevada, Las Vegas,
in Association with Studebaker Studios
13 April 1995
Directed by Todd Tjaden of Los Angeles' Studebaker Studios, UNLV's University Theatre's production of David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross changes the "gang comedy" to the point of caricature by casting women in four of its seven roles. In a program note, Dramaturg Jennifer Laird writes that Tjaden and his cast hope their risk "will not cloud Mamet's vision, but instead, illuminate, . . . making it easier for us to . . . question and scrutinize the rules under which we all live." Though the actors make yeomanly efforts, that hope is not realized in this inept production.
Sam Souza's design combines realistic details from the office and the restaurant scenes in one set. With the house lights still up and the stage dimly lit, we see Williamson (Bob Blomgren) going through file cabinets. Downstage, two women are jotting notes on legal pads at square tables, a reddish glow from hurricane lamps washing over tablecloths and incongruous office phones. Slightly apart, a third woman sits at a small round table lit by another hurricane lamp, nursing a drink. As the dialogue between Levene (Michael Bunin) and Williamson finally begins in this combined office/restaurant set, the "busyness" of the design emerges as distracting, aesthetically illogical and displeasing.
Molly Hood's costuming is even more misguided. "Jane" Lingk (Lisa Bawdon) sips at that drink dressed in torn jeans and a black leather jacket, certainly not clothing suggestive of a potential real-estate investor for "Riki" Roma (Teresa Gilmore). Roma's outfits are also ill conceived. She first appears in a slinky dress slit way up the thigh and revealing a good deal of cleavage; in Act II she comes to work, supposedly to keep a number of sales appointments, in tight jeans, a red leather jacket and high-top Keds. David Moss' (Sheilagh Polk) jogging suit is inappropriate as well for a salesman out to impress the marks.
Tjaden's changes in Mamet's Pulitzer-winning script are the most egregious elements of this production, along with the new business that he provides. Moss' presentation of her theft idea to "Jean" Aaronow (Roni Woodcock) is quite physical, seductive, nearly sado-masochistic lesbian in tone. Even more inappropriate, as Gilmore's Roma makes her final pitch to Lingk in the bar, she flashes that leg and, dress unbuttoned, flaunts her scantily covered breasts in Lingk's face, exiting in a parody of a gay pick-up. The director may intend a metaphoric statement about the manipulative nature of salesmen, but his over-the-top exaggeration just doesn't work given the play's basic realism. These explicitly sexual bits are blatantly inconsistent with the atmosphere of male camaraderie established during the advice-in-the-bar scene that Mamet actually wrote for Roma and Lingk.
Changing Mamet's lines to facilitate the production's sexual shifts often produces unintended comic effect. For example, in the original, after Roma has described one of the "great fucks" he remembers, he says that after "the cafe au lait. She gives me a cigarette, my balls feel like concrete." Tjaden's line for his female Roma is "my nipples feel like concrete." When "Riki" Roma is sarcastically lambasting Moss in Act II, she says "what a big woman you are," compounding the silliness of the shift from Mamet's "big man" by spreading her jean-clad thighs and rubbing her crotch. When she verbally assaults Williamson about his botched effort to help, she calls him not "a stupid fucking cunt" but "you fucking man." More significantly, Roma's line to Levene after his interview with the detective in the original is "It's not a world of men, Machine." Tjaden changes that to "It's not a world of professionals," obliterating the cumulative, summarizing force of the original, where it emerges as both a prelude to Roma's offer of a partnership to Levene and a thematic comment on his own refusal to live in a "hell on earth."
Roma's opening lines to Lingk emphasize just how little thought has gone into such changes. In the Mamet stage version, he says: ". . . all train compartments smell vaguely of shit. It gets so you don't mind it. That's the worst thing that I can confess." The line is evocative, rhythmic, finally thematic. Tjaden has substituted ". . . all rental cars smell vaguely of shit." His facile attempt to update the play sacrifices the original's allusion to the Chicago El, rushing its passengers to or from their work, and simply makes no sense, for it's not true. As Act I ends, "Riki" Roma leads Lingk out to a raucous tape of "Bad to the Bone." Her exit at the end of the play has her singing "Money, Money, Money." The contrast to the film's more subtle use of Duke Ellington's "Prelude to a Kiss" and Irvin Berlin's "Blue Skies" during these same scenes says volumes about the simplistic level of this production.
Other such directoral choices abound. For the most part, the actors have been coached to take Mamet's rhythmic language at an almost uninflected breakneck pace. In jarring contrast, Tjaden gives Aaronow a stutter, which makes this version's female character pathetic rather than sympathetic. And after she finally breaks down in tears as Lingk reneges on his purchase and leaves the room, Roma attacks Williamson with a quivering voice, an attempt to feminize the character that violates Mamet's vision of Roma's strength. In short, the basic idea behind this production was a terrible one, which altered the very ground of a brilliant, lovingly structured play for no good purpose. And that bad idea was poorly executed in a performance that invariably went for the obvious, often resulting in caricature rather than the subtlety that underlay the raucous surface of the original. Indeed, this was not "a world of professionals."
Christopher C. Hudgins
University of Nevada, Las Vegas