Empty words may not normally be a happy discovery on Broadway, but in the stirring revival of Glengarry Glen Ross, currently in performances at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater, the vacant dialogue and unfulfilled promises of salesmen are most certainly welcome, as long as they are performed by this powerfully energetic cast.
Inspired by Mamet’s experiences working at a Chicago real estate office in the late 1960s, Glengarry Glen Ross explores the behind-the-scenes scheming of a similar office and the price that salesmen pay in order to close the almighty deal. The recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in 1984, the play is undeniably relevant to today’s desperate economic times, and this production, directed by Daniel Sullivan, packs a powerful punch despite the 20+ years since its first premiere.
Rapid-fire dialogue flies left and right onstage, with Pacino playing Shelly “the Machine” Levene, an aging salesman struggling to reclaim his former glory as the top man in the office. Pacino is no stranger to Mamet’s play, having acted the part of Richard Roma in the 1992 film adaptation. His comfort with the material is evident, but that does not result in a half-hearted performance; instead Pacino appears to be on fire onstage, Levene’s desperation to prove himself evident in every action, even while merely sitting in a booth at a restaurant.
We first meet Levene when he attempts to bribe his manager John (David Harbour) to provide him with hot leads for sales. John refuses to do so unless Levene pays him in advance, as well as promising a portion of his sales’ profits, which Levene is unable to do. Levene’s co-workers, salesmen Dave Moss (John C. McGinley) and George Aaronow (Richard Schiff) also are struggling to stay ahead in the office, resenting pressure from management, and devise a scheme to steal the leads and sell them to another firm. The only employee of this firm who seems content is Ricky Roma (Bobby Cannavale), the top seller of the company, who seemingly exudes confidence and charm with every breath, seducing anyone who comes into contact with him, including James Lingk (Jeremy Shamos).
When the leads are stolen from the office, chaos ensues, with everyone protesting their innocence as well as continuing to struggle to save their jobs. Insults and foul language are exchanged, as the ensemble delivers Mamet’s powerful dialogue in a natural, but not exactly easy, manner. Pacino, whose slight frame is clad in a suit that doesn’t quite fit him, depicts Levene’s inner world-weariness but also his determination to succeed, and when he bursts into the office, fresh off what he thinks is a successful sale, his renewed vigor is apparent.
As Roma, the office’s golden boy, Cannavale gives a performance of ease and confidence. Sleek, smooth and tan, he is clearly destined to rise to the top – and perhaps fall from it, just as Levene does. Cannavale, who was outstanding in 2011’s The Motherf***er With the Hat, is equally impressive as Roma, depicting an endearing naïveté and hero worship of Levene, which balances his exuberant professional confidence. When he listens to Levene describe a sale he closed earlier in the day, his admiration and respect for Levene is apparent.
Respect for one’s fellow man is a vivid theme in Glengarry Glen Ross as well as the idea of defining one’s masculinity through one’s success at work. Harbour, McGinley, Schiff and Murphy Guyer, as the policeman investigating the break-in, are all excellent, working as a seamless ensemble. There are no women in the cast, and the only females mentioned in the script are Levene’s daughter and Lingk’s wife, who demands he put a stop to his investment in Roma’s sale. Shamos, who starred in last season’s Clybourne Park, gives a compelling, subtly nuanced performance as the soft-spoken, easily manipulated Lingk, a perfect foil to Roma’s rapid-fire, smooth-selling charm.
Manipulation by salesmen is nothing new to audiences, nor is the corruption of workplaces. Following Occupy Wall Street and facing the rapidly approaching fiscal cliff, Glengarry Glen Ross may ring a bit too true to some members of the audience, which only proves the timelessness of Mamet’s work, and the success of this cast.