Glengarry’s Men are the Ones to Sell

There are few plays the capture the essence of desperation quite like Glengarry Glen Ross. David Mamet is a genius at expressing the richest of human emotions in the simplest, most spare and concise bit of vernacular poetry. As David Storch (director of the production currently playing at Soulpepper Theatre) observes in the programme notes, “Mamet mined all the issues of that terrible recession in the early eighties and the desperation and frustration of that era has come full circle.” It is a perfect choice for Soulpepper to produce this play (about real estate agents clawing their way to the top of the board) now because its themes are entirely relevant to the world we live in, but the play is so captivating and sharp and saturated with power, greed and testosterone that it refuses to allow us to wallow in our own despair- the pace is so quick, if your mind wanders for a moment you’re screwed!
The man sitting next to me in the theatre was a huge Glengarry Glen Ross fan and he kept providing extra insight for the woman he was with, which I happily soaked up as well. He described the interactions between the characters as, “two fencers exchanging light taps.” The language is so succinct that it must be delivered with the utmost precision and proficiency. There’s no fucking with Mamet, so to speak. Of course, Soulpepper is home to some of this country’s most proficient actors, and this production is definitely no exception.
The two most mesmerizingly brilliant performances in this show were that of Eric Peterson as Shelly Levene and Albert Schultz as Richard Roma. Peterson’s vocal rhythm from the moment he opened his mouth in the first scene until the curtain call was breathtaking in its ability to sound so poetic and yet so natural simultaneously. He elicited empathy from the audience so subtly, it was almost sly, and saturated every word he said with such context without being at all didactic or drawing any attention to it. In all, it was such a concisely perfect performance, that in hindsight I find myself so aware of how finely crafted Mr. Peterson’s art is. I stand in awe of him. Albert Schultz was a perfect complement to Peterson, which made the scene they shared like watching a really fantastic tennis match. Schultz played Richard Roma as the essence of the crooked salesman, with his seedy underbelly exposed, continually changing his tactics and building the momentum and intensity for the audience. Like Peterson, his art is so finely tuned; it is impossible not to admire that kind of skill. In both cases, they are two performances that I feel very fortunate to have seen.
Jordan Pettle is also particularly outstanding as John Williamson, the young office manager who the real estate agents despise. He has a quiet smugness and continually keeps his cool amid the ongoing chaos. Pettle masters Williamson’s subtlety magnificently.
As I exited the theatre I heard impressed audience members commenting on the production and the words that continually cropped up were “crisp,” “quick” and “fast paced.” The Intermission snuck up on the entire theatre, and everything flew by in a whirling blur of captivating exchanges, yelling, and profanity. This is all thanks to David Storch’s clean and sharp direction, which was as succinct and precise as the playwriting and the acting.
This is a play that I think even people who maintain that they don’t enjoy live theatre will like. It has all the features of a really well-made television program, with three times the intensity, adrenaline, and urgency. You can’t fake Mamet, which makes it even more apparent that the great men working at Soulpepper Theatre are indeed the real deal. Glengarry Glen Ross runs until May 9th, 2009, for tickets and more information, please visit their website or call 866-8666.
As an aside, the programmes they give out at Soulpepper are packed with all sorts of fun tidbits, and this season, Albert Schultz (Artistic Director) has gotten different members of the cast to write little introductions to the plays in there. I think this is an absolutely brilliant idea, and something that I would love to see more of in the future. I would like to share with you a little note from Stephen Guy-McGrath who plays Detective Baylen (with much gusto) in Glengarry Glen Ross. I quite enjoyed it, I hope you do too.
“Last fall I was installing a friend’s dishwasher (this is the kind of thing actors get up to in their down time). I got a call asking me to be in this production of Glengarry Glen Ross. At first I thought there must have been some kind of mistake.
Glengarry Glen Ross?… The Glengarry Glen Ross?… David $@#^&% Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross!?”
This play is iconic for actors. It allows us to play in a rough and tumble world of unashamed, unchecked and often unflattering, raw, masculinity. It is literate and poetic in the decidedly terse vernacular of the American Midwest. It is arguably the pinnacle of its playwright’s cannon.
Glengarry Glen Ross is a play that actors long to do, they dream of doing it. Sometimes they do it when they shouldn’t. I’ve seen it many times: in French, with high school students, on film, in an all-female version, with university students, even with Scottish accents (?).
Actors love this play and will do almost anything to be in it. Everyone I talk to—friends, family, other theatre professionals, my dentist, the mustard guy at the market—they all know and love this play. Most of them say that it is just like their office which makes me glad I’m an actor!
Surely if Soulpepper is doing Glengarry Glen Ross they will have their pick of the acting litter. Schultz, Webster, Bundy, Donaldson, Peterson, Pettle and Simpson. That is the pick of the litter—with Storch directing to boot. And I was being asked to be a part of it. Yes, yes and @#$! YES again!… just let me finish these dishes and I’ll be right there”
– Stephen Guy-McGrath

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