Attending the latest production of David Mamet's “Glengarry Glen Ross” is like being in the stands of a major heavyweight prize fight arena. Directed erratically by Daniel Sullivan, the seven characters, salesman in a Chicago real estate business selling land in Florida, fight with each other, each staccato line delivered with brute force as a punch to the head, the stomach and the kidney. There are no Marquess of Queensbury Rules here. The language of this 1989 Pultizer Prize winning play, is bursting with invective and expletive. In the audience we were in, both men and women responded to the symbolic right hooks, feints and curses with screams and grunts, participating raucously in the action.
This is the second revival; there was an excellent, far more polished one in 2005, which won the Tony award, and there was a film in 1992. In the first scenes, the salesmen meet in a rundown Chinese restaurant (Set Eugene Lee, lighting James F. Ingalls). As you can tell by the crowds outside the theater, Al Pacino, all tics and hair-strokes, is expressively holding sway as Shelly Levine, an over-the-hill salesman, who is in trouble. Even though his sales have been off, he begs the young supercilious office manager, John Williamson (David Harbour), to pull some good leads for him. His pleading wins after he offers him a bribe, a large percentage from sales and $50 a lead, which Levine can't afford. Remember this was 1989 when that was a lot of money. Pacino is a great actor, but at the end he looks too much like the beleaguered Shylock in The Merchant of Venice; he played that last year.
Meanwhile, Dave Moss, given an electric performance by John C. McGinley, is intent on convincing George Aronow, the understated Richard Schiff—in an auspicious Broadway debut---you must remember him so fondly in “The West Wing” --to rob this business and sell the leads to another firm. George refuses, but the office is sacked, even phones are taken, and a policeman, Baylen (Murphy Guyer), spends the 2nd act off- stage questioning everyone.
Glengarry Glen Ross, named for two communities, Glengarry Highlands and Glenn Ross Farms, is supposed to be an ensemble piece, but the centerpiece is the top salesman, Richard Roma. Bobby Cannavale, who has moved among television, film and stage roles with the grace and skill of a cat on a hot tin roof, is superb in the role. Sleek and slick, every hair in place, the golden-tongued Roma persuades James Lingk, a sad-sack restaurant owner, to buy a plot, and when he tries to renege on the deal, Roma goes beserk. His rage knows no end. Jeremy Shamos seems too quiet as Lingk, the henpecked husband. But then anyone would appear reserved in comparison to these rowdy salesmen!
Jess Goldstein has costumed each of the men, appropriate to character. Richard Roma's suits are especially sharp. “Glengarry Glen Ross” continues to be fascinating- a bitter slice of American life at The Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre on Broadway.