Presented by Merrimack Repertory Theatre
By David Mamet
Directed by Charles Towers
Review by Craig Idlebrook
(Lowell) If you want to see inside the male workplace psyche, you must see the new Merrimack Repertory Theatre production of Glengarry Glen Ross, but I warn you: it’s not a pretty picture. It’s every man for himself and there is no mercy in David Mamet’s brutal examination of greed.
Mamet brings the sins of Wall Street to Main Street by encapsulating the sins of the so-called “masters of the universe” within the confines of a second-rate real estate office. The real estate brokers are begging, pleading and stealing for good leads to sell the proverbial swampland in Florida, all under the threat of the axe from downtown. Though Mamet was writing against the backdrop of the junk-bond era of 80’s Wall Street, the themes explored in Glengarry resonate even stronger after the 2008 economic meltdown, which, not coincidentally, began with the popping of a real estate bubble.
Mamet’s profanity-laced script is filled with stutters and stops that, when mastered, are as poetic as Shakespeare. Sometimes the cast struggles to capture this rhythm, while other times it’s clear they are lost in the combat and the words fly as freely as bile. The audience laughs uncomfortably when the hits land, as we learn we are like 8-year old boys whispering new words on the playground in comparison to these veterans of profanity.
Will LeBow (Levene) is the heartbeat of this play with his sad sack portrayal of a salesman on a cold streak. Infusing his character with an air of a worn-out street-fighter trying to put up his dukes one more time, he carries restless sorrow with every step. At the same time, LeBow never lets us sympathize too much for Levene, who ultimately gets chewed up by his own treachery and weakness in every interaction. Todd Licea (Roma) also is chilling as a charismatic salesman with a tongue that can eviscerate. When Roma switched on a dime from personable to vengeful, he reminded me so much of a dead-eyed politician I once met who wanted me to write a book about something, anything, to keep his name in the spotlight. I was his best friend until I never heard from him again.
Scenic Designer Bill Clarke does a nice job creating a plush façade for the wheelings and dealings of the first act, set in the thick, red booths of a Chinese restaurant. The vinyl seats look more posh than they are, and the red seats expertly suggest the blood in the water. In the second act, the façade is stripped away to show a cheap office propped up by plywood and laths, suggesting the underbelly of capitalism.
Perhaps what’s most scary about this production is its accessibility. It’s one thing to watch Kevin Spacey be smarmy on the screen as we watch high rollers fall in a wonky biopic about the economic meltdown; it’s another to recognize your own workplace and smell your own desperation in the small-time schemes of these realtors. Mamet warns us that we are all selling, all the time, and his pitch is so smooth that we can only believe it.