Thursday, January 20, 2011

Death of the salesman

Craig Houk grills Michael Pevzner in Glengarry Glen Ross.
The Independent Drama Society first popped up on our theatrical radar screen with an able production of Proof last summer; now the intrepid troupe has decided to tackle a more ambitious text, David Mamet's biggest Broadway success, Glengarry Glen Ross, at the BCA's Black Box through this weekend.

And the good news is that, like Proof, the production is surprisingly strong - although Mamet's famous savaging of a corrupt real estate office is here never quite as savage as I think its author intended. Director Brett Marks has inculcated in his cast the rhythms of Mametspeak, and the spoken performances flow along admirably. This, of course, is all a production can aspire to, according to this particular author's own claims. But other observers might note the character work behind the well-rendered speeches is a bit more variable, I'm afraid - although never so variable as to pull us out of the spell of one of Mamet's tightest dramatic constructions.

The best performance probably belongs to Phil Thompson, as Shelly "The Machine" Levene, a down-on-his-luck salesman who stumbles into what seems to be a big score. Levene may have not seemed quite pathetic enough in his opening scene, but Thompson spread his wings beautifully once back on top of the sleazy office heap, and his gulling of a particularly clueless mark was as ruthlessly hilarious as it should be. Perhaps only a small step behind was Michael Fisher as Roma, the role that won Joe Mantegna his Tony; oddly, Fisher is perhaps the more magnetic actor, and he certainly had Roma's smooth-talking surface down pat. But Fisher has only partly mined the wealth of emotional material in this character's soliloquies, which in their nihilist bravado - and sad groping after some sort of honor among thieves - rank among Mamet's best. Elsewhere there was nicely detailed work from Bob Mussett as that gullible mark, and thoughtful touches, if not full arcs, from Craig Houk and Michael Pevzner. Only Jeremy Browne disappointed, I'm afraid, as the seemingly spineless corporate suit in the corner office - largely because he has yet to tap into his character's surprisingly cold core.

As with Proof, the physical production was stylish and assured.  Designer Sean A. Cote pulled off convincing evocations of both a Chinese restaurant and the wrecked real estate office within the tiny confines of the BCA's Black Box; and the lighting and costumes were never less than apt. Glengarry Glen Ross counts as another feather in this young company's cap; and you've only got this weekend to catch it, if you want to be able to say you knew them before they hit it big.

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