Glengarry Glen Ross
Indianapolis Phoenix Theatre's production isn't quite mean enough. Mamet's play creates a society of animal predators who are desperate to make a kill, but who will, under pressure, ultimately prey on one another. Unless one feels the animality of the salesmen, unless there is a sense that among these men the law of the jungle prevails, the amalgam of bestiality, comedy, pathos, and poetic justice within the final exchange between the trapped Levene and the suddenly preying Williamson will be lost.
GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS
By David Mamet
The Phoenix Theatre, Indianapolis. 13 June 1996
The Phoenix Theatre is a theatre with a mission. Under the guidance of its enterprising producing director, Bryan Fonseca, the Phoenix has dedicated itself to presenting contemporary American plays not previously produced in Indianapolis, some original scripts, and usually at least one play a year about race and one about gender. Frequently they dare to present what Indianapolis's more conservative, main line, professional company, the Indiana Repertory Theatre, will not risk producing. Not surprisingly, then, the Phoenix has staged works like John Guare's Six Degrees of Separation , Jane Martin's Keely and Du , Donald Margulies's Sight Unseen , August Wilson's The Piano Lesson , David Rudnick's Jeffrey , and Terrence McNally's Lisbon Traviata , Lips Together, Teeth Apart, and Love! Valour! Compassion!
Not surprisingly, too, the Phoenix this past year attempted a season devoted exclusively to plays by and about women. What was meant clearly to be the piece de resistance of the season, an all-female production of David Mamet's   inever happened because, it is rumored, Mamet pulled the rights when he learned of the regendering of his play. Although Glengarry was withdrawn from the official season, it was back on the Phoenix's summer docket (June 13-30) with an all-male cast.
Directed by Fonseca, the Phoenix's production of Glengarry Glen Ross points up the strengths of thc play and the perils facing those who would produce it. Watching the play, one is made intensely aware how much Glengarry depends on the rapid repartee among the realtors, as well as how much depends on the ability of those salesmen to speak and think faster than their clients, who are not given time to comprehend and ponder what is being said. One realizes, too, how Mamet's characters are measured against each other not merely through the onstage "board," the posted table indicating their sales, but through the texture of their language and their verbal agility. Most unfortunately, however, these things are brought home at the Phoenix not because the production delivers them but precisely because it fails to.
Clearly Fonseca's directorial strategy is to tone down the play. What should be the language of fast-talking, Chicago hucksters who speak at 78 rpm speeds is, consequently, slowed to a more measured 33 1/3. And at the diminished speed, the typically Mamet sentence fragments that represent inchoate thinking, and the expletives that plug gaps of language and logic don't do their work. They leave instead the impression that these men are a little slow on the uptake and that Mamet is using raw language merely to shock audience sensibilities. Consistent with this, the set for the real estate office in the second act, designed by Ron Brock, is rather too neat for the sleazy operation it houses. Tony McDonald, the costumer, likewise outfits the realtors in tasteful suits and fashionably conservative ties. Polyester and more garish ties would more aptly have bespoken Mamet's coarse and tasteless characters. The salesmen are dressed like respectable, classy lawyers rather than the hucksters they are.
Possibly the play's most brilliant scene comes when two pros, Roma (Brad Griffith) and Levene (Rich Komenich), spontaneously create fictions for Lingk (Thom Beeler), their innocent score. But the slowed Phoenix production makes it seem as though the game is being played by Little Leaguers rather than major leaguers passing the ball between them over the head of Lingk and doing so with lightening speed and artistry. At that moment, one should feel some respect for these verbal artists even as they are working to bilk an innocent victim. In the Phoenix's production, Lingk would have to be truly dim-witted not to know he is being scammed. And there is a sense of two fumbling amateurs awkwardly trying to create a convincing scenario. Glengarry Glen Ross is, in many ways, Ben Jonson's The Alchemist set at the end of the twentieth century; and in their scene, Roma and Levine should be as much a team as Subtle and Face. Sadly, in the Phoenix production they are not.
The bright spot, however, is Brad Griffith, an able actor who portrays Roma. Griffith has more speed and skill, more urban surface slick, than his fellow cast members, and thus often, as in the scene with Levene, is in the lamentable position of a star quarterback with no one on the field to receive his passes. Griffith is also the member of the cast best able to have the fucks and cunts of the dialogue run trippingly off his tongue as though they are the commas and semicolons of his thinking and speaking.
Like Jonson's The Alchemist or Volpone , Mamet's play creates a society of animal predators who are desperate to make a kill, but who will, under pressure, ultimately prey on one another. Unless one feels the animality of the salesmen, unless there is a sense that among these men the law of the jungle prevails, the amalgam of bestiality, comedy, pathos, and poetic justice within the final exchange between the trapped Levene and the suddenly preying Williamson will be lost. Lost, too, will be Roma's last demand, "I GET THE ACTION," when, jackal-like, he hopes to pounce on Levene's sales. The slow pace Foseca sets and the relative cleanness of stage set and costume make Glengarry Glen Ross seem more like pet dogs nipping at each other than American competition red in tooth and claw.
Despite its flaws, Glengarry Glen Ross at the Phoenix is an acceptable if not brilliant rendering of Mamet's playtext. Certainly Indianapolis is a kinder, gentler city than Chicago; and thus perhaps appropriately Mamet's salesmen at the Phoenix seem more like shallow Hoosier realtors than Chicago scam artists. One can only wonder how the Phoenix's production would have turned out with an all-female cast.
(Ed Note: see DMR 2 (Fall 1995) for Chris Hudgins' review of a largely female cast Glengarry Glen Ross at UNLV's University Theatre)