Time hasn't been kind to Glengarry Glen Ross, but the dialogue still crackles
David Mamet wrote Glengarry Glen Ross in 1984, and by now it's just so familiar. The play is about a group of small-time salesmen peddling worthless tracts of land, all of them pathetic, creeping, conscienceless creatures, jostling for power like rats in an overcrowded cage and willing to betray anyone, colleague or customer, for the smallest advantage — even while defining their own puny machinations as the height of victorious masculinity. Although the story of unwary clients being bankrupted by unscrupulous sellers has clear contemporary resonance, time hasn't been entirely kind to Glengarry. Compared with the glossy sharks now gobbling up the nation's resources, these characters are minnows. But the dialogue is still cracklingly alive, repetitious, jointedly disjointed, catching perfectly the seduction of the con. And the action is never boring. The work does, however, require a cleaner, tighter production than this one by Edge.
The action begins with three brief scenes set in a Chinese restaurant. Each represents a specific kind of con job; together they neatly put in place all the struts of the plot. In the first, Shelley Levene, a middle-aged salesman who has lost his edge, is pleading with the manager, Williamson, to give him better leads. Williamson not only turns Levene down, but seems to enjoy watching his growing desperation. The second vignette shows two salesmen complaining about management. The only solution, says Moss, is to break into the office, steal the leads, and sell them to another company. When his companion, Aaronow, protests, Moss turns threatening, implying that just hearing the plot has made Aaronow an accomplice.
Enter master salesman Roma, played by Rick Yaconis, delivering a long monologue full of cloudy pseudo-profundities about life and sex. And this is where the cracks in the production begin to show. Yaconis is all the way across the room from his intended mark, Lyngk, and seems focused more on himself than on his potential buyer. At one point, in an odd directorial interpolation, a woman enters, listens silently, and then — still without a word — kisses Roma on the cheek. This must be intended as testament to his seductive power, but it strikes me as distracting and unnecessary — even if we were really convinced of that power, unnecessary. But this Roma seems less like an irresistible word spinner than a mafioso willing to put a bullet through your brain if you cross him.
In the second act, the plot gets moving quickly. There has indeed been a break-in, and a detective is questioning the salespeople one by one in Williamson's office. Meanwhile, Roma exults in his successful sale to Lyngk, and Levene, too, has unexpected good news. His description of how he closed a sale with an elderly couple — sitting at their kitchen table, eating cake, pulling out a pen and allowing a long pause to ensue — is brilliantly written, and Paul Page's delivery is mesmerizing. Then Lyngk comes in wanting to break the contract he signed with Roma, and in an instant, both Roma and Levene converge on him like hungry hyenas, full of lies and double talk. Of course, you're hoping that Lyngk escapes their clutches. But if the play is really to speak to you, you should at the same time be feeling a reluctant admiration for the attackers' ruthlessness and skill, and I just didn't. Nor could I see grabbing someone's face in both your hands as if about to bestow the kiss of death — which Roma does to Lyngk — as a convincing tactic.
Richard Cowden is a properly bullying Moss, and Verl Hite a touching Aaronow. But the most enjoyable performance belongs to James O'Hagan Murphy as Williamson. I've seen this character played as a soulless bureaucrat, a juiceless foil to Roma's swaggering masculinity, but this Williamson is a snake — quietly, maliciously demolishing the others one by one, the clear top dog in a noisy, dog-eat-dog world.
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about upcoming performances, exhibitions, openings and special events happening in the Denver art and theater scene.