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Glengarry Glen Ross

Has the collapse of Enron dated Glengarry Glen Ross, making the play's stakes seem paltry and thus rendering it a work from David Mamet's nostalgia file?


By David Mamet

The Lyric Stage Company, Boston.

13 April 2002.

Has the collapse of Enron dated Glengarry Glen Ross, making the play's stakes seem paltry and thus rendering it a work from David Mamet's nostalgia file? Or have inventive accounting and auditing procedures essentialized the comic-savage shenanigans of Mamet's real estate salesmen, affirming Mamet's prophecy as well as his analysis of American socio-economic practice? At least there is personality in Mamet's 1983 version of free enterprise, however vicious and exploitative, which is preferable to the rapaciously arrogant and banal apologies of today's corporate executives and government spokespeople.

Mamet's salesmen strike out against the socioeconomic system that entraps them as much as they demonstrate its most fundamental values. That tension seems crucial to Glengarry Glen Ross as personal and national parable, and it comes through splendidly in this production at Boston's "off Broadway" Lyric Stage. Raucous blues, mostly variants of "money" songs, frame the two acts. The music tones up the audience, induces an us-against-the-system mood, and so coaxes out the play's aggressive folk appeal. These vitriolic salesmen both demonstrate and prey upon human vanity and need: they are much like us, even as they bilk the likes of us. Director Spiro Veloudos has created an energetic, edgy, compellingly clear production of Mamet's dramatization of venality, drive, and failure.

By clear, I mean that Mamet's language comes across as rhythmic, mannered, colloquial, and redolent of tropes from 19 th and 20 th century American culture. But relationships among the characters are also startlingly clear in all their internecine rivalry. All conversations in this text are power plays and traps, a characteristic this production insists on. Moss (Dale Place) and Roma (Ted Reinstein) insult one another in act two because they are on the sales board together and thus threaten one another for dominance. Moss turns viciously on Levene (Ken Baltin) when, glancing at the board, he realizes that Levene's sale of eight units of Mountain View puts him ahead of Moss (with seven on Lyric Stage's board). Dale Place's Moss is more manic than mean, but, like the rest of the characters, he lives in the present. Last night's collusion has no effect on today's camaraderie because today Levene is on the board.

Every decision and remark is thus grounded in the moment, and the nuances of the competitive system have sudden, palpable effects on characters and audience members alike. Roma thoroughly enjoys the story of Levene's sale, which Ken Baltin pitches directly at the audience, as if the Nyborgs are in the house, and Reinstein persuasively mythologizes Levene as "the Machine" for his help in trying to defraud Lingk. Roma's verbal assault on Williamson (Neil Casey), after Williamson seems inadvertently to have scuttled Roma's deal with Lingk, is calculated to empower salesmen on stage and delude young men in the audience. The system is fine, Roma's finesse seems to say, if you are clever enough to operate in it. Reinstein's Roma is so persuasive that he makes an instant ally of Baylen, the police officer on stage. As played ably by Peter Darrigo, Baylen scorns white-bread Williamson as he leads impassioned Roma into interrogation.

Veloudos' Glengarry Glen Ross is loud, and so its quiet moments are often effective. Neil Casey's Williamson, who is always a little daunted by Roma, seems stronger when he quietly scorns Levene (in act one) rather than when he rails loudly at him (in act two). Ken Baltin plays Levene's blustery desperation very effectively, with wheedling, offensive aggression. Vigorous and pathetic, he rides the wake of Roma's act two harangue ("Anyone in this office lives on their wits") with shocking hubris, betraying his complicity in the robbery and nearly assaulting Williamson physically. Mark Cartier creates a quiet, decent Aaronow who is estranged from his job and colleagues but is never tentative. His Aaronow clearly has scruples, but he nonetheless has to fortify himself with Pepto-Bismol before being interrogated. That is a nice touch, and a good example of how attentive Veloudos' direction is to detail. Derek Sterns' Lingk is a likably hapless and sympathetic patsy.

Scenic designer Janie Howard uses the Lyric Stage's small, pit-like forum well to capture the claustrophobia of Glengarry Glen Ross. In the spare act-one set, a large hanging dragon and a single booth (which moves from one side of the stage to the other for scene changes) establishes the seedy Chinese restaurant. To get to their seats for act two, some audience members have to pick their way through the clutter of the ransacked, low-end real estate office. With comic mournfulness, a dead office plant bespeaks the trashed office and the assault on nature (euphemized as Glengarry Highlands, Glen Ross Farms, Mountain View) that gets conducted from this gray urban space. Enron, at least, would have Green Space in which to water the plants.