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Bob Goepfert Reviews "Glengarry Glen Ross" At Curtain Call Theatre

Glengarry Glen Ross at Curtain Call Theatre

LATHAM – When David Mamet’s play “Glengarry Glen Ross” opened in 1984 it was a controversial work.  Its language which is loaded with f-bombs seemed profane and the central characters in the play were deemed unworthy tragic figures because they were con-artists who were bilking average people by selling them worthless Florida properties with exotic names like Glengarry Highlands and Glen Ross Farms.

Today the work seems much tamer.  Whether it’s because of films, cable TV or just the common usage of verbal crudity on a daily basis the play’s strong language is no longer disturbing or shocking.  Sadly, fleecing the savings of innocent working people by selling them underwater property appears almost like quaint larceny when compared to the crimes of modern day swindlers.

However, “Glengarry Glen Ross” still tells a taut story and uses characters who are indeed tragic figures in the sense they are consumed by a heartless system they helped create.   

The play takes place in Chicago where four salesmen are in the closing hours of a contest that will award the winner a new Cadillac automobile.  The downside is the loser might be out of a job.  This tension drives the men to heights of unethical behavior in order to get the best leads for new sales.  When the office is burglarized, the leads stolen and contracts appear missing it is assumed that the guilty party is one of the salesmen.

For most of the 80-minutes of the play, which is performed without intermission, the suspicion of guilt falls upon one the three slackers in the office.  As they speak among themselves it becomes clear how desperate each man is for validation through a sale.  The men boast of past accomplishments and delude themselves into believing they are only in a slump.  They refuse to admit they are anachronisms in a system that has no tolerance for lack of production.

This is best expressed through the character of Shelly “The Machine” Levine.   Poignantly played by Jack Fallon, Levine can no longer close a sale.  Worse he can no longer recognize those who have any potential for a sale.

Fallon is heartbreaking as a man who is as desperate for success as he is clueless to the fact he and his contemporaries are dinosaurs who have traded their humanity for materialism.  Now that they are without value and lack the humanity to give them strength, they become sad little men with no self-identity or self-respect.

Because this is an ensemble work few other individual portrayals stand out.  Director Steve Fletcher concentrates more on the mood of the play rather than individual performances.  With the exception of a couple of scenes between Fallon and Patrick White who plays the obsequious office manager Williamson, rarely does a scene capture the rhythms of Mamet’s working class characters or find the subtext that condemns  an entire economic system that celebrates cheating and greed.

This is not to suggest that the characters are insignificant – they are just colorless.  When originally produced the dominant character was Richard “Ricky” Roma.   He is the top gun of the sales team, as confident as he is deceitful.   He is typically played as the type of person that can dominate you by force of his will.  David Orr plays him more as a glib confidence man who wins you over not by brunt of personality but by his false sincerity.   Roma now becomes more a Bernie Madoff-type bringing an eerie sense of contemporary reality to the material.

It makes you realize that once upon a time men without ethics were considered sleazy swindlers. Today they are respected members of society.

“Glengarry Glen Ross” at Curtain Call Theatre, Latham.   Performances Thursdays-Sundays through March 19.    877-7529

Bob Goepfert is the arts editor for the Troy Record.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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