Performers transcend Mamet script

The reality of theater reviews at Williams is a strange thing, since it would seem that one of the main purposes of a review is to tell someone whether (or not) to go see a certain production. Of course, by the time you read this review, the minimal set of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, which played to audiences at the Adams Memorial Theatre at the ’62 Center last Thursday through Saturday, will have been stored away in the theater vaults, and the actors will be in rehearsals for other shows or maybe just navigating the theatrical landscape.

So, what’s the purpose of this review? I can’t tell you to go see Glengarry Glen Ross, since it’s not playing anymore (and what a shame that is!), nor do I particularly make you want to feel bad for not going (though you certainly should). My goal for this review is simple: go to the theater. Here at Williams there is so much theater, of such variety, and not only does so much hard work go into it, but so much product, so much reflection and so much entertainment. Heck, even if you think the play itself is overrated (as I do with Glengarry), a night out to the theater provides you with so much more than just the text – it is the ability to see performance, to see people, to see lights and to have fun.

Thank goodness, Glengarry balanced a fluid understanding of the text and a disciplined, nearly virtuoso-like performance with an equally cherished and lighthearted sense of fun. David Morris’ Dan Flavin-esque minimal set made one immediately think of the ’80s, a cabaret and the high-art of the entrance of the Hamburger Bahnhof all at once. As usual what has made this Williamstheatre piece so strong design-wise is the inter-collaborations between designers, and Julie Seitel’s lighting became indistinguishable from the same mood and feel that Morris’s set conjured. The lights turned from an office to a Chinese food restaurant but never left the comforts of the cabaret. The sound design also catered to the Cabaret style, though at times the excess of songstress Ethel Merman’s recordings became a bit grating on this reviewer’s ears.
I will devote only a little time to the play (that is, the writing), which may seem controversial since it’s the biggest selling point. Though it is true that the relevance of economical sleazy macho men parading around on a stage gives the play a quaint, bitter nostalgia, for the most part, Mamet-speak feels like watching Discovery Channel for a-holes. It’s an American anthropology of the basest kind. I’m not a fan of Mamet, I’ll say it right now, and I can find the verbal pyrotechnics tiring – but rather than ruin my night at the theater, it was a magnificent example of how the actors themselves were able to turn and play with the text and, in doing so, elevate it to a near-classical level of grandeur.

The plot is simple and clever: A bunch of real-estate salesmen in 1980s Chicago have until the end of the month to finalize sales, and in the end all but the top two salesmen will be fired – in the process, briberies and all kinds of sales are made, and a robbery occurs. Mamet wallows in language, and if the actors had been any less talented, I could see myself dozing off, but the spectacular performances held this piece above the fray – and may have redeemed some aspects of Mamet.

Alas the number of great performances was too many to count, but a particular few should be highlighted – the scene between Moss (Tyisha Turner ’12) and Aronow (Kaveh Landsverk ’09) was a spectacular display of how the one who holds the words can often wield the most power – Landsverk’s twits and twitters were as comedic as they were telling. Roma’s (Eric Phillips ’09) quasi-philosophic male-jackoffery manipulation of Lingk (Joe Lorenz ’10) gave us an insight into what I could only call the ideal of the male d-bag. The most effective scene, however, was both a study in power and silence as well as a physically tense, beautifully choreographed moment – a spectacular and terrifying Williamson (Noah Schechter ’12) coolly takes all the abuse he can handle, until he demonstrates his power in front of a certain Levene (Quinn Franzen ’09); Levene, in return, handles these extremes from being top dog to being a bottom of the rung criminal with excellent and nearly empathetic power.

I’ll forgive the masturbatory language and over-dependence on text that Mamet calls his “style” – directors Liza Curtiss ’10 and David Eppel, professor of theater brought out the theatrical, forgotten in Mamet, by giving us lovely tongue-in-cheek cabaret moments as the work loses its macho-man ball-grabbing pathos. We can no longer empathize with the characters but look through them in awe and wonder.

Glengarry shows how the theater is both an alienating experience – letting us have a glimpse at a world I personally thought I could care less about – and, by marrying it to such a beautiful aesthetic sensibility and nuanced delightful interpretation, also as pleasing as a symphony or a classical sculpture. I can’t tell you to go see this play, but it’s as good an excuse as any to start going to the theater.