The Glengarry Glen Ross play gets GREAT reviews!

The Glengarry Glen Ross play gets GREAT reviews!

The Box almost closes the deal

By Donald V. Calamia

REVIEW: Glengarry Glen Ross

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The Box Theatre, Mt. Clemens’ only professional theater, started life earlier this season with a string of comedies, which was a smart move – especially since history has shown that audiences prefer to laugh during tough economic times than ponder deep thoughts. But thespians cannot live by chuckles alone, so The Box is starting 2010 by challenging itself and its audiences by staging David Mamet’s exploration of masculinity and manhood, Glengarry Glen Ross. And while director Mathew Maya’s production fires up many fine moments and performances, the occasionally wonderful piece-parts on opening night never quite flowed together to form a consistent and cohesive whole.

Based in part on personal experience, Mamet sets his drama among a highly competitive team of Chicago-based real estate salesmen who will do anything and say anything to convince easy marks to buy undesirable property sight unseen. Management is pressuring its four salesman to increase their numbers – and threatens to fire its two lowest producers. So they beg for better leads, bicker and bitch among themselves, hustle unsuspecting customers – and plan a crime that could earn a few some quick, easy cash.

Mamet’s script is a scathing indictment of American business, and when Glengarry first hit the stage in 1982, it couldn’t have been timelier. But while many period-specific dramas lose their punch as the decades fly by, recent business and economic forces have combined to once again make Glengarry relevant to Americans mired in banking scandals and housing market woes.

What HAS changed in the intervening years, however, is the punch of Mamet’s dialogue. Celebrated for its gritty realism, Mamet’s poetic, but often profanity-laced word play was shocking two decades ago. Today, though, while the words STILL deliver a powerful wallop, Mamet’s unique patter has become far more familiar – comfortable? – to theatergoers raised on HBO and “R” rated movies.

Still, Glengarry ranks among Mamet’s greatest work, and his examination of what it means to be a man will never lose its flavor.

In fact, it’s in the play’s more personal moments where The Box’s production works best. And there are several such moments.

One of the first occurs in the second scene, as salesmen Dave Moss (Ben Feliciano) and George Aaronow (John Iwanski) kvetch about their bosses – and plan a crime. Feliciano fully captures the feelings of a man frustrated and angry by his situation in life, and he does a fine job of building the intimidation that eventually causes Aaronow to give in to his plans. Iwanski plays off Feliciano quite nicely, and quickly establishes his character’s quirks that will serve the show well in the second act.

The next scene brings another spot-on performance. Here, Mamet gives the audience a close-up look at how a shady salesman works a potential client. It’s a difficult and rambling scene in which Ricky Roma (Aaron Kurilik) must slowly lure Jim Lingk (Brian Rohe) into a false sense of confidence. Roma is the top dog at the office, and he knows how to charm even the toughest client. As such, the temptation is great to make Roma a snake oil salesman, but Kurilik takes a more thoughtful, low-key approach, which works best in the theater’s intimate black box space.

The second act is one long scene, populated by several revealing moments in which the actors shine.

Doug Clark, who plays office manager John Williamson, is the most consistent actor throughout the play, and his confrontation with the crime’s perpetrator is a delight.

Michael Jeffries as the past-his-prime Shelley Levene has two particular “wow” moments in Act Two – the first of which is a long monologue regarding how he was able to get an elderly couple to sign an expensive contract. (His body and voice are in total harmony here.)

Yet despite these and a few other instances of well conceived and executed moments and performances, the connective tissue often lacked that same intensity, drive and passion. (Were the intimate, two-person moments tightly staged and rehearsed, but the broader scenes were not, I wondered? Where was the hyper-masculine, testosterone-filled competitiveness that should drive the salesmen’s actions throughout the play? And why weren’t some of the actors looking at each other while holding a conversation?)

So while The Box’s production was enjoyable and satisfied the palate on many levels on opening night, it missed on a few others. Yet I suspect that will change after a few more performances – after which the actors become accustomed working in front of a live, very close audience, and Maya, a novice director, grows more comfortable taking charge of the script.

(Longtime Mamet aficionados may be surprised to find an emasculating scene from the movie adaptation has found its way into the opening of The Box Theatre’s production. If nothing else, it’s a ball-crunching showcase for Macomb County Commissioner Cary Torrice to strut her stuff in front of her constituents.)


What’s That Smell? at The Box Theatre, 70 Macomb Place, Mt. Clemens. Friday-Sunday through Feb. 14, plus Thursday, Feb. 4. Tickets: $16. For information: 586-954-2311.

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