David Mamet is f***ing back in business.
The curses fly, the briefcase slam, and the air crackles with disgust and despair in Mamet's often blistering Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Glengarry Glen Ross, now in its second Rialto revival at Broadway's Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre. And even in the production's dullest moments, the energy level is megawatts brighter than just doors away at the John Golden Theatre, where the writer's bone-dry new play, The Anarchist, is about to be lowered into a deservedly early Broadway grave.
That said, director Daniel Sullivan's sturdy enough staging of this tale of a group of cutthroat, foulmouthed, and deeply unhappy real estate salesmen--who are competing for not just a new Cadillac, but their livelihood and manhood--is neither as bone-shaking as Gregory Mosher's original 1984 Broadway production or as gorgeously precise as Joe Mantello's 2005 Tony Award-winning revival.
What should get anyone's blood pumping in a pitch-perfect rendering of any Glengarry--and what one firmly expects from Sullivan--is a continuous display of flawless ensemble acting, and that display is simply lacking here. Yes, Bobby Cannavale turns in an almost predictably sublime performance as Richard Roma, the oil-slick salesman who lives by his own rules and changes his outward behavior more often than he changes his designer underwear. But Al Pacino alternately mesmerizes and confounds audiences in the primary role of Shelley "The Machine" Levine, and the rest of ensemble–with the notable exception of John C. McGinley, who fumes and foams with expert ease as the hot-tempered, despicable Dave Moss–struggle to make their parts feel like little more than glorified cameos.
Nonetheless, the production still provides numerous moments of crackerjack entertainment in the second act, especially for those viewers not repulsed by these reptilian, if pathetic, creatures. Moreover, it resonates with those audience members who have either felt screwed over by corporate America or seen their dreams, deferred or otherwise, go up in flames. (Then again, those folks probably aren't the ones paying $167 or more for orchestra seats while delighting in their own schaudenfreude more than is generally considered polite.)
Unfortunately, the play's first act, consisting of three quick, two-person scenes set in a run-of-the-mill Chinese restaurant (faithfully if cheaply designed by Eugene Lee and devoid of food, waiters, or aromas), lacks any real momentum. It gets off to a particularly shaky start as Levine, the down on his luck veteran salesman, pleads with his seemingly heartless office manager John Williamson (David Harbour) for the opportunity to shore up his fading fortunes.
The exchange is not only thrown off by Pacino's tentative, occasionally sing-songy readings (not to mention his rather odd hair), but it can be hard to tell whether Harbour, who comes into his own brilliantly later in the play, is uncomfortable with Pacino's lack of rhythm, or if the uneasiness is part of the characters' dysfunctional dynamic.
The scene also provides our first glimpse that Pacino, always a boldly original actor, is giving an idiosyncratic take on Shelley, emphasizing the character's cockiness rather than his desperation and delusion. It's a through-line he maintains in the far stronger second act -- especially after Shelley makes the sale he thinks puts him back on top -- and one that makes the play's denouement even more powerful. (Pacino's final moments are exquisite, and evidence of just how great a stage actor he can be.)
Cannavale (perfectly outfitted in tailored clothes by Jess Goldstein), perhaps unsurprisingly, proves to be ideally cast in the show's flashiest role. (It earned both of his Broadway predecessors, Joe Mantegna and Liev Schreiber, the Tony Award.) Watching this expert actor transition Roma's ultra-cool demeanor, on full display as he initially lures unwitting prey James Lingk (a fine Jeremy Shamos) into listening to his patented shpiel, into full-blown rage after their deal suddenly disintegrates, is little short of terrifying.
And in his final tirade, the great "f*** you" speech that every disgruntled worker has ever wanted to give, Cannavale is like an erupting volcano. The heat can be felt to the back at the theater, making the outside December air (and the reality of American life) even chillier. Cannavale is so good that, like his character, he can make us buy whatever he's selling. If only the same could be said of the entire company of this inconsistent production of Mamet's masterwork.
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