Posted June 13, 2015
What actress wouldn’t beg, wheedle or bribe her way into being cast in Glengarry Glen Ross, written by David Mamet for seven male actors? They get to strut, swagger, throw the f-bomb all over the place, clutch their (imaginary) balls, say “cocksucker” and behave like men. Well, not like all men: real estate salesmen.
With the #1 hot topic in this town being the high cost of housing, an expose of the ugly underbelly of the real estate business is timely and terrifying. Do we really want to have our noses rubbed in the cutthroat activities that pervade the industry? The lies, the backstabbing, the unscrupulous machinations to get purchasers to sign on the dotted line? In this play, the two big developments that Premier Properties are trying to peddle are Glengarry Highlands and Glen Ross Farms – both big, multi-residential projects.
Mamet creates seven character types that female actors seldom get to play and Rachel Peake, directing for Classic Chic Productions, turns seven women loose on this scorcher of a script. It’s typical Mamet-speak: jagged conversation, fractured sentence structure, aggressive posturing, constantly shifting pecking order, male bonding and betrayal. Lady Macbeth and Hedda Gabler would fit right in. So would King Lear’s daughters Regan and Goneril.
Peake chooses not to turn these characters into the female, nail-polished, power-suited equivalents of Mamet’s characters – and that would be awkward because of the playwright’s repeated references to “being men”, behaving like “men” and “having the balls”. It just wouldn’t make sense to change the perspective, shift the pronouns from “he” to “she” and adjust the lines to “being women”. But the actors are outfitted by costume designer Sherry Randall as men: suits, trousers and ties, with their hair slicked back. Suzanne Ristic, as George Aaronow, the least assertive of the bunch, wears a diamond-patterned knitted vest and a newsboy’s cap, effectively turning her character into a schoolboy: lowest on this dog-eat-dog ladder.
Apart from dialogue that comes at you like shot from a shotgun and an intriguing plot, undoubtedly a lot of the fascination with this particular production is watching how well these women transform themselves into these men. You just can’t avoid being intrigued; how they sit and walk, how they interrupt, swear, use facial expressions, how arrogant or bullying they are or how passive-aggressively they behave. They are wickedly good at it.
Colleen Winton, as Shelly “The Machine” Levene, could write the book on how to talk Mamet: starting and stopping, changing direction, whining while appearing not to, badgering then backing off. It’s a monologue – almost – with Marci T. House (as John Williamson) interjecting a word here and there before accepting a bribe that will cripple Levene, the top salesman years ago but who’s now unable to make a sale.
It’s all about “the leads” – names of prospective buyers handed out by Williamson to the top salesmen – the salesmen on top of “the board.” The leads are everything. They’re worth buying and selling; they’re worth stealing. And, of course, that’s what happens.
On top of that board with almost $100,000 in sales is Richard Roma. Actor Michelle Martin simply moves in on the character. Slim and slight, Martin is quick on her feet, almost dancer-like especially as she insinuates Roma’s way into James Lingk (Christina Wells Campbell) while, ostensibly, just making conversation in a bar. Not surprisingly, Roma sells Lingk some property he doesn’t have the money and doesn’t want. Martin, as Roma, fakes such sympathy and understanding but a shark is friendlier.
Just below Roma on the board and hungry to climb higher is Dave Moss (Corina Akeson). Tall and lanky, Akeson’s Moss is perpetually pissed off and a master of innuendo. “We’re just speaking about it?” Aaronow asks when Moss suggests breaking into the office and stealing the leads. “We’re not talking about it”, replies Moss evasively, “Not actually”. But they are, actually.
Marci T. House, as Williamson, is quietly, completely cold and unfeeling – and, as it turns out, completely able to be bribed. The cast is completed by Catherine Lough Haggquist as the cop.
Cast with men or women, Glengarry Glen Ross is a terrifically nasty and totally entertaining play. It’s the dramatic equivalent of the Stanley Cup: rough and tumble, fast and furious, sometimes brutal. But in this case, “He shoots, he scores”, is a big sale of unwanted property to an unwitting buyer. It’s a buyer beware world.