Not as Easy as ABC

Written by Doug Strassler on . Posted in Arts & Film, Theater.


The latest ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’ revival can’t close the deal

Photo by Scott Landis

Pity poor Shelley Levene, the has-been real estate salesman central to Glengarry Glen Ross, David Mamet’s 1984 Pulitzer Prize-winning play about the corrosive nature of capitalism. Not only is pathetic Shelley, brought down to his knees from desperation, not too proud to beg his boss John Williamson for some more promising clients. But as portrayed by, improbably enough, Al Pacino, this shrinking violet Shelley isn’t even granted the dignity of a performer who can completely sell Mamet’s purple prose.

You’ll be forgiven for thinking the above is a misprint. Pacino has already appeared once, onscreen, in James Foley’s hyper-kinetic film adaptation of the Mamet play, released exactly two decades ago, in the powder keg part of slick salesman Ricky Roma. It’s one of the legend’s main mid-career film triumphs. Now, in a game of Broadway musical chairs (a game that can also be called “Hey! I Want A Tony!”), Bobby Cannavale has stepped into the Roma role that already earned Joe Mantegna and Liev Schreiber Tonys for their Main Stem at-bats, while Pacino moves into the Leven roles (previously played on Broadway by Robert Prosky and Alan Alda and in the Foley film by Jack Lemmon), re-teaming with director Daniel Sullivan after their awesome revival of The Merchant of Venice.

And yet despite more than six weeks of rehearsal prior to Saturday night’s opening, Pacino doesn’t seem to have found his groove as Levene, and Sullivan’s production loses its balance. Mamet’s play, awkwardly bisected into a first act that finds each of these 1983 Chicago salesmen at a local Chinese restaurant plotting for their survival in their own way and a second act in which the gang arrives at their North Side office following a burglary, offers a layered look at Levene, who must deceive himself, Willy Loman-style, into thinking he has momentarily lost his mojo only to eventually face his dire straits. From the outset in Sullivan’s production, looking convincingly dilapidated and of its period thanks to Eugene Lee, Pacino’s conciliatory delivery admits defeat. There’s no tragic fall in store for a character if we meet him at rock bottom.

Pacino bounces back a bit better in Glengarry’s second act, despite a few line stumbles, but Sullivan’s staging drains the show of its dog-eat-dog danger. If the first act feels slim, the tenser second act is robbed of nuance. Additionally, neither Pacino nor Cannavale mine Mamet’s staccato dialogue for their full dramatic effect. There is more cackle than crackle to their delivery. Impressively, Cannavale instills a consistent sense of respect in Roma for the veteran but floundering Levene, yet he is too transparently sly to be truly seductive; anyone, even duped client James Lingk (an outstanding Jeremy Shamos, as usual) could see his sleaze a mile away.

The rest of Sullivan’s cast acquits themselves far more convincingly. John C. McGinley, as gruff Dave Moss, digs into Mamet’s dialogue with the cutting delivery of a rap artist, and Richard Schiff delivers a thoughtfully tuned Broadway debut as the nebbish George Aaronow; Murphy Guyer is convincing in the minor role of investigative detective Baylen. It is David Harbour, though, who proves to be the MVP of this team as the exasperated Williamson, face flushed with the frustration of middle management. But these parts don’t all add up to a convincing enough whole. What should be a riveting look at sly foxes dancing as fast as they can only amounts to a lazy foxtrot.

Glengarry Glen Ross

Schoenfeld Theater, 236 West 45th Street. www.glengarrybroadway.com Through Jan. 20.

 

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