With Romneyomics making the campaign rounds and the divide between the haves and the have-nots a rhetorical flash point, could there be a better time to revisit the Reaganomics era of David Mamet’s scathing Glengarry Glen Ross? The 1984 Pulitzer winner about the desperate men at a Chicago real estate office is a grim reminder that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
La Jolla Playhouse’s Christopher Ashley directs a Glengarry that hasn’t aged in its cynicism or verbal brutality. The slow death of its salesmen, at least internally, remains morbidly fascinating, even as Mamet’s strafing F-bombs predominate. The central figures are by now archetypes to anyone who’s seen Glengarry Glen Ross before or remembers the fine 1992 film adaptation. They seem suspended in purgatorial time, forced to atone for not closing enough deals: blustering Dave Moss (James Sutorius), who translates his resentment into the pivotal scheme to burglarize the realty office and steal the coveted “premium leads”; George Aaronow (Ray Anthony Thomas), beaten down and running out of hope; and Shelly Levene (Peter Maloney), a “legend” past his prime with just enough faith left in him to keep from doing the Dutch (Mamet-speak for suicide). Even the comparatively successful Richard Roma (Manu Narayan) is in fierce competition not only with his fellow agents, but with a creeping part of himself that wants to F-bomb it all.
Narayan’s performance as Roma, which manages gestures of tenderness toward the pitiable Shelly, is the stoutest among a cast that also includes Johnny Wu as office manager John Williamson and Jeff Marlow as a sad-sack client of Roma’s. The thing is, Mamet’s incendiary script itself overwhelms those speaking his words. The play is caught up in the cadence and sting of its exchanges and denunciations. Mamet, who once toiled in a Chicago real estate office, is always on your mind. Even sympathetic Shelly is just the least bit elusive to us.
The Playhouse staging nevertheless is on target. Ashley’s taut direction is complemented by two superb sets (the Chinese restaurant and the tumbledown office) by Todd Rosenthal. You can almost taste the gimlet and feel the chalkboard dust on your fingertips.
David L. Coddon is theater critic for San Diego CityBeat