When they hear "Glengarry Glen Ross," most people will think first of the 1992 film adaptation starring Al Pacino (who won an Academy Award for his role), Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey, Jack Lemmon, and Alec Baldwin. But in the theatre world, David Mamet's "Glengarry Glen Ross" has serious legs — the 1984 play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama that year, and has garnered several Tony Awards. It's widely considered one of Mamet's greatest works.
The plot follows a group of wheedling salesmen in a Chicago real estate office over the course of two days. Through a series of vignettes at the play's opening, it becomes clear that the salesmen are trying to sell pieces of luxury land to people who really can't afford to buy. But the office manager has offered a Cadillac to the top salesman, so they persist. When the office is robbed overnight, an investigation shines a light on what's happening under the surface.
It can be a risk to place a Mamet play in a theatrical season. With their explicit language and mature content, his plays have a polarizing factor. But while "Glengarry Glen Ross" may use expletives like conjunctions, the dialogue itself is written so exquisitely that the swearing feels organic. Aside from that, as noted by Blackfriars dramaturg Eric Evans in his deft playbill notes, the script holds up in modern times because of its themes of working (and over-working) to succeed. While the tools have changed in the digital world, the cost of selling a product — and one's self — in the workplace has only increased.
The cast is a complete boys club, but it should be noted the play is based on Mamet's own experience in a Chicago sales office in the late 1960s, when women weren't typically part of that world. The Blackfriars cast is also a tad reminiscent of Blackfriars' May 2017 production of "Death of a Salesman" — several of the same players are reunited here, including director Brian Coughlin, who seems to excel with the "American Dream" canon of plays (particularly relating to burned out salesmen).
"Glengarry Glen Ross" is a small ensemble show, but D. Scott Adams (Roma) clearly leads with his performance. Adams is a fairly new face in the local scene, and seems to thrive with each onstage role he holds. As smooth talking lead salesman Roma, Adams is at once charming and two-timing. He does an excellent job avoiding a caricature of the character, working in the occasional glimpse of compassion and kindness to his coworkers. David Andreatta (David) plays a conniving, angry younger salesman who's tired of being taken for granted. Early in the show, Andreatta's expertly frenzied performance has him talking circles around Jeff Siuda (Aaronow), who provides just the right amount of quiet anxiety to make the duo's scene hilarious.
David Munnell (Levene) portrays an aging, once-top-of-his-game salesman who's desperate to run the show again (audience members who saw "Death of a Salesman" will have flashbacks to Munnell's Willy Loman performance). John Winter (Williamson), as the office manager, plays a reactionary role in the show. While he doesn't give his counterparts quite as much passion as they deliver his way, he provides an excellent springboard for Munnell's intense monologues, especially. Rounding out the cast is Christopher C. Conway as the nervous, cuckolded buyer Lingk; and Gregory Ludek as rough investigator Baylen.
The set design by Eric Williamson is impressively versatile. What begins in act one as a Chinese restaurant opens to a full office during intermission, and the attention to detail (thanks in part to props master John Engel) enriches the audience experience. Costume designer Kayleigh Barclay recreates the mid-1980s in wonderful ways with the costumes, incorporating boxy ties, ill-fitting three-piece suits, trench coats, and polo shirts.
"Glengarry Glen Ross" easily makes the list of iconic plays every theatregoer should see — and Blackfriars has created a stellar version of this Mamet classic. Unfortunately, opening weekend only comprised one day — due to a cast illness resulting in canceled performances on Saturday and Sunday — but the show runs Wednesday, February 15, through Sunday, February 18, with an added performance at 7 p.m. on Sunday. Runtime is less than two hours, including an intermission, which makes for an easy night (or afternoon) out.