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Glengarry Glen Ross

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It is no accident of the times that finds Artistic Director Christopher Ashley staging and directing La Jolla Playhouse’s riveting production of Glengarry Glen Ross. Fit for our time and place is David Mamet’s acerbic, darkly humorous, slice of life drama about corporate greed, modern materialism, betrayal, and survival in the real estate sales world. Toss in for good measure the death of the American myth that hard work yields success. The forces driving the characters and the story of the play’s world are very much with us today, considering the presidential election season in full dramatic swing and surviving the economic downturn foremost in modern mindset.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning plot revolves around four Chicago real estate salesmen, in the early and economically challenging 1980’s, who must compete in a new corporate contest for a Cadillac and their jobs by unloading Florida land to unsuspecting buyers. The glitzy development names, Glengarry and Glen Ross, inform the play’s title and disguise the true environment of that useless tract.

Further masking the hollowness of the endeavor is the slogan driving the Chicago real estate office, “Always be closing,” with which Mamet prefaces the script. A few scenes into the play confirms that its top-of-the-board salesman is the one paying lip service to the slogan, but the only closer is the office manager, Williamson, who closes careers. No matter that the salesmen credit their luck or skills to past successes; they are now trapped in a game that only the top player can win.

Todd Rosenthal’s set is true to the play’s mood of confinement. In Act one’s seedy Chinese restaurant, live fish (the only suggestion of calm) swim in a tidy rectangular tank while character duets cuss, converse and deal-make in tight banquettes patched with duct tape. The men move, in Act II, to their shared office crammed with file boxes, rusting cabinets, and mismatched desks and chairs all shoved into a space with less area than a corporate conference room. Meanwhile, the corporate executives, Murray and Mitch, remain out of bounds, controlling the business and the men in it, but never appearing in person. (In the 1992 movie adaptation, Mamet introduced a closer character, Blake, a super salesman played by Alec Baldwin, but he is not part of the play or this production.)

Mamet’s clear, unadorned dialogue demands precise timing with a fortissimo and staccato rhythm to make music of the sharp language, infused with salty speech that includes anti-Indian and anti-Polish diatribes and stereotypical mimicry. Ashley delivers. In less capable directorial hands, the humor would fall flat and the tension would bounce rather than stretch. Both tension and humor initiate the action and move through to final scene.

At the play’s onset, Shelly Levene (Peter Maloney, brilliant as an indignant, erstwhile has-been) is all but shut out, despite his frantic pleas for John Williamson (a steely Johnny Wu as the corporate hatchet man) to award him some good leads. Levine represents the-way-it-used-to-be sales professional, the guy who used his personal technique and understanding of people to make the sale and his personal relationships to make it stick. Levene is Mamet’s Willy Loman, a man who was respected back in the day when salesmen sought and maintained relationships, but becomes a throw-away in an updated race for results. Now, Shelly “The Machine” Levine seems destined to become one of the fired.

His colleague, Richard “Ricky” Roma (aggressively, yet charismatically wrought by Manu Narayan) remains one of the fired-up, and not in a good way. Adapting to the new rules of ruthless business, he is determined to win the Cadillac, any way that he can. Demonstrating one of the ways by super-smoozing an unwitting restaurant customer, James Lingk (Jeff Marlow) into purchasing one of the worthless tract lots, Roma seems destined to become one of the super-closers. Marlow drew the short straw in the character list, but his restrained, then browbeaten, then broken persona of Lingk qualifies as one of the play’s most revealing personalities. Of all the characters, Lingk is the most lacking in independence, a man whose existence is constantly controlled by everyone but himself. In a world of predator and prey, he is the preyed upon, a perennial victim of those seeking success at any cost.

Desperate to hold onto the sense of success that being on “the board” represents, the middle of the pack duo, Dave Moss (a slick and convincing James Sutorius) and George Aaronow (empathetically played as a clueless, but moral Sad Sack by Ray Anthony Thomas), fantasize a risky ruse. That daydream conspiracy becomes a concrete plan as Moss pulls off his Machiavellian manipulation skills, much to his colleague’s detriment.

At this point, the story begets a mystery, but is not formulated as a standard who-dun-it, a detail that perplexed some critics of the original Broadway play and the 1992 film adaptation. Mamet called this play one of a specific American genre, the gang drama or the gang comedy, focusing on a segment of society, so it has only some secondary roots in detective novel. As the detective Baylen, Matt MacNelly is miscast (too young and not big enough), but he makes a good effort at bad cop.

Despite the twist in the final scene that reveals the identity of the robber, the scenes that could have shed light on the actual thief are not part of the script. Ruminating on the causal conversations that effected the final outcome and filling in gaps of interaction between the two perpetrators is left for the audience to attempt, post-curtain. In hindsight, however, the guilty party’s motivation becomes obvious.

In this Chicago real estate office of the early Reagan era, as in more recent decades, desperation can drive the despairing to commit dangerous deeds. Perhaps success or survival demands a new rope of moral fiber. Perhaps success in the early 80s, as now, takes a different kind of morality, yet the slippery rope can easily become a noose.

Glengarry Glen Ross continues at the La Jolla Playhouse Potiker Theatre through October 21. Performances are Tues-Weds at 7:30; Thurs-Sat at 8; Sun at 7. Sat and Sun Matinees at 2 pm. Tickets are $49 and up (Slide balcomies start at $15/) Reservations: 858-550-1010 or lajollaplayhouse.org


 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.