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Round House Theatre does very well by playwright David Mamet with its new production of Glengarry Glen Ross, which many consider to be Mamet’s best work. When it was first presented in 1984, it even garnered him a Pulitzer Prize. No doubt, the strong acting ensemble and design team Round House has corralled will be justly celebrated. It’s definitely an award-caliber production.
Glengarry Glen Ross
(Photo by Danisha Crosby)
But all that doesn’t mean you’ll walk out of the company’s Bethesda theater singing the show’s praises. The high-octane, dystopian play just doesn’t foster a sense of celebration, at least not to this theatergoer. While it may have been on the cutting-edge of art capturing, in style and substance, the greed, excess and hyper-masculinity of the ’80s – it came several years before the film Wall Street, for one – it just strikes me as a bit retrograde and misanthropic in its portrayal of human nature.
Glengarry Glen Ross focuses on a group of struggling salesmen in a real-estate business, whose sole concern is making sales – ”always be closing” – so they can get rich and afford Cadillacs. Who cares if the properties aren’t worth their asking prices, or if their clients can’t really afford to buy – or want to change their minds a couple days after being strong-armed into buying? These money-grubbing, self-absorbed men won’t take no for an answer.
I’m not so naive to think this doesn’t reflect real life, or even that those notions are outdated. From the foreclosure crisis to rampant debt, American culture today still encourages people to bite off more than they can chew, and settle for a lesser quality of life than they deserve. But somehow in Glengarry Glen Ross, it’s all just a bit too much to stomach, especially since there’s no sense of resolution. ”I hate this fucking job!” is the last line in the play. So take it and shove it – just walk out the door, you want to yell back.
Rick Foucheux as the play’s lead Shelly Levene, and Alexander Strain as the youngest and loudest salesman Richard Roma, are both particularly dexterous here, never once stumbling over the complicated ”Mamet speak” of regular interruptions, overlapping dialogue, half-thoughts and incomplete sentences. And director Mitchell Hébert and set designer James Kronzer make effective use of a turntable stage, moving with ease the action from a bright, inviting Chinese restaurant to an untidy, unsettled office. If only it didn’t leave you feeling a bit unsettled at the closing.