Saturday, April 14, 2007

THEATER REVIEW;Winners and Losers In a Seamy World

By ALVIN KLEIN Published: November 19, 1995, Sunday New York Times
WHAT I'm saying, what is our life?" (Pause.) "It's looking forward or it's looking back. And that's our life. That's it. Where is the moment?" (Pause.) "And what is it that we're afraid of? Loss. What else?" (Pause.) "The bank closes. We get sick, my wife died on a plane, the stock market collapsed . . . the house burned down . . . . What of these happen . . . ? None of 'em. We worry anyway. What does this mean? I'm not secure. How can I be secure?" (Pause.) "Through amassing wealth beyond all measure? No. And what's beyond all measure? That's a sickness. That's a trap. There is no measure. Only greed."
That's Richard Roma, top salesman, talking, venting, philosophizing, sans scatology. It comes next. To spare.
Welcome to David Mamet territory, where words -- weapons for the inarticulate -- speak loud, but action speaks louder.
In "Glengarry Glen Ross," a savage comedy about sleaze in the real-estate racket (or perhaps game, but not, in an acceptable sense, business), Mr. Mamet has written one of his most complete, most unarguable plays yet. Like "American Buffalo," it excludes women, thus freeing the playwright from the specters of ambiguity and misogyny.
Here are seven men: five salesmen, one detective and one customer, a pushover.
A woman's presence in a Mamet play presents a fierce challenge, usually unmet, for directors and actors to fill in the open-ended seething phrases. An all-male contingent can just go at it in a combative world of openness. Men outshark one another, "to try to earn a living," in one of the salesmen's words. The battleground or the carnival -- "All it is, it's a carnival," Roma says -- is a contest. It's about selling worthless land in Florida. The winner gets a Cadillac. Two losers get unemployment.
Where the action is in Mr. Mamet's 1984 Pulitzer Prize winner is in plotting to steal leads and ransacking the office, in the threat and the treachery -- more bile in an hour and a half (intermission included) than is packed into a blood-letting Elizabethan epic. The rampant ethnic put-downs are yet another extra. And nobody dies, except spiritually.
In this production by National Stage, a fledgling nomadic professional company, Andrew Lionetti (Roma) has the alternately cool, slick and manic staccato Mamet style down pat. In a show-stealing performance, the actor represents the playwright's views on the "ways of the world." Roma is a "member of a dying breed, a world of men."
Alexander Barnett (as Shelly Levene) and Jeffrey Norman (as George Aaronow) play the losers. Levene is actually a loser turned winner turned loser. Mr. Barnett invests the role Robert Prosky created on Broadway and Jack Lemmon played in the film, the character whose "bad luck runs in streaks," who then gets hot, scoring a Pyrrhic victory with a poignant sense of need that reveals a life of obligation outside the amoral confines of his job. The heart of Mr. Barnett's work is in sync with the playwright's nonjudgmental view of all the salesmen trapped in a demeaning system.
But no two performances have a right to be at the center of an ensemble piece. Chris Firriolo's staging is thus unbalanced, more formulaic than stirring.
If Mr. Barnett is jittery, Mr. Norman as the most hapless salesman -- an unwitting accomplice to a criminal plot "because you listened," as he is told -- is close to the edge and ready to jump, stammering to an obviously overplayed fault.
At a vulnerable point in its emergence, National Stage is trying to start a theater in earnest. It would be damaging to overpraise it. It is important to notice.

1 comment:

Ava said...

Well written article.