BWW Review: EPAC's GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS Is A Real Steal
Ephrata Performing Arts Center always prides itself on producing excellent work - but some work is more excellent than others. David Mamet is one of America's National Treasures as a playwright but his work is not easy - it's never less than demanding, usually Shakespearian both in themes and in vulgarity, and always thought-provoking. No one ever came back from a Mamet show saying that they'd had a delightful evening of light comedy. If you want a great production of Mamet, you have to be prepared, and you must have a cast who can handle what's been served to them, which is no small portion but an all-you-can-eat buffet of human nature, coming at you like nails on chalkboard. It's easy to say that Mamet's not for amateurs. (Disclaimer: this writer loves Mamet's writing and admits to seeing RACE on Broadway six times.)
Run therefore, do not walk, to EPAC's GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, a tale of the go-go real estate years and the salesmen crushed by it. Director Michael Swanson has called upon a cast starring some of EPAC's most distinguished veterans - Ken Seigh, John Kleimo, Sean Young, and Timothy Riggs, along with fellow veterans Herb Stump and Kevin Ditzler - to take on the world in a piece of ensemble work that is one of the most remarkable pieces of its recent seasons. The result is a provocative but delicious insight into human rapacity, weakness, loathing, and misery that illuminates the Eighties go-go years of commercial real estate and investment sales, and how the men (for it was indeed a male club) inside handled... or didn't... the continual pressure to produce.
In a Chicago real estate office that's as close to a bucket shop as you can get, Timothy Riggs plays John Williamson, the seemingly mild manager who distributes leads and reports back to his unseen overlords, Mitch and Murray from "downtown". Around him swirl four middle-aged to older agents, ranging from the current hustler, Ricky Roma (Sean Young), the milquetoast George Aaronow (John Kleimo), the devious Dave Moss (Herb Stump) and the reigning king of "I coulda been a contender," Shelly Levine (Ken Seigh). The office's sales contest for the month, sponsored by "downtown" and fought among the four, is a game of winner gets a Cadillac and loser gets a pink slip.
Over two days, the five men battle over sales leads, sales figures, and sabotage, with and against each other. Kleimo's George is delicious, fearful and feeling unsuited for the tasks he's asked to complete, while Stump's Moss tries badgering George, who looks like a pushover, into helping him with his own plans for the leads. Young's Ricky Roma is the salesman from hell, ready with a fast story, a free drink, a big lie, and anything else that can manipulate some poor fool - in this case Kevin Ditzler's character Lingk - into signing away his money without thinking.
Seigh's Levine, however, is the true delight here, a man obsessed with his former glory days in the company, planning his own underhanded efforts to prove he can get back on top. The interactions between Levine and Williamson, and between Moss and George, are true highlights of the first act, while George's fear of a police detective (Noel Smith) and Levine's braggadocio over his astounding sales triumph the night before are perfect individual turns. But look for Young and Seigh to spin the pair act of Act Two, trying to pull a spontaneous con on Lingk in order to hang onto Roma's sale. The seamless interaction between sales veterans Roma and Levine, trading on each other's freewheeling off-the-cuff lies and trying to maintain a convincing story, is perfect.
In the midst of the competition for top salesman, however, one question stands out above all and explains why George fears Detective Baylen: just who broke into the office the night before and stole all of the prime leads (as well as, in an age before cellular networks, all of the office telephones)?
In a twenty-four hour span of ruthless business throat-cutting, lies are told, backs stabbed, friendships proven to be for show only, and humanity thrown out the window as each agent is forced to look out for himself in a test of business survival. Reality television has never been as brutal, perhaps because, as always, Mamet's story lines veer perilously close to true, and not artificial, reality.
Swanson has cast well if not indeed perfectly, has maintained the pace needed to keep the pressure on the sales agents, and has allowed that pressure to produce a diamond. Life has never felt so office metal-desk Eighties. This is the kind of theatre the area needs. It's also the kind you should see.
Unfortunately, EPAC only runs non-musicals for two weeks, so get there now. Through the 17th at Ephrata Performing Arts Center. Winners get tickets, and the losers in this competition lose out on a remarkable piece of work. Call 717-733-7966, or visit ephrataperformingartscenter.com for tickets and information.
Not for the faint-eared (and definitely not for young children), but it's David Mamet, who has elevated the four-letter word to epic poetry, so try to set those scruples aside to admire the pure sound of the dialogue. This production of his Pulitzer-winning play is completely worth the trip.