REVIEW: Glengarry Glen Ross | BSSTC

Reviewed May 27, 2015

Heath Ledger Theatre

“All my thoughts were on them, none on me,” says Shelley Levene, as he’s describing his “sit” with the Nyborgs. 

This is, in fact, a prime example of a funny thing that Mamet does when he’s writing his scripts – he embeds his acting philosophy in his characters’ words. There are other hints of it here and there scattered throughout Glengarry Glen Ross: “Where is the moment?” and “Never open your mouth until you know what the shot is,” are both two other tidbits of acting advice Mamet gives us. Whether these hints are intentional or not is perhaps a matter of debate and research, but regardless, we can see them as tools as to how to approach Mamet’s notoriously difficult material.

Mamet is a challenge to interpret, especially if you don’t have the natural spoken rhythms that come from having American English as your first language. His language is highly syncopated, and finding good Mamet “musicians” can be a difficult task for directors looking to fill these iconic roles. Kate Cherry has not failed us in this. The cast of Black Swan’s latest production of GGR get the job done. Her directorial interpretation is faithful and does the material justice. She hasn’t tried to swing wildly against the grain, she has been loyal to what’s in the script, and this is essentially what Mamet asks of anyone who produces his works. He tells us that everything we need to know is in the script, so reinventing the wheel and attempting to prove your cleverness as an actor or director is counter to his philosophy.

However, this does NOT mean that productions should be exact replicas of the original. Actors should NOT be cookie-cutter reproductions. In fact, each night an actor walks on stage to utter “Fuck you” to someone, it should be distinct. Perhaps not in a way that is noticeable by the audience, but in a way that the actor can feel because he is in the moment. This is a difficult zen-like task for performers, as it can be a temptation to perform a scene by rote once you’ve been rehearsing it day in day out for weeks. So kudos to the director, cast and crew for tackling the strict demands of the mind-curling Mamet.

With regards to the individual performances, Peter Rowsthorn once again proves his chops not just as a funnyman, but as a skilled actor who manages to stride the fine line between comedy and tragedy (his Max Prince in BSSTC’s Laughter on the 23rd Floor last year was a triumph, and this performance is a shining follow-up). His Shelley Levene is both pitiful and hilarious, and he brings his own fresh, funny take on this irritating character. Someone asked me if GGR was really a comedy, as it’s so often seen as this daunting drama (which of course it is as well), and my firm answer is yes, it is funny. And Rowsthorn gets it. If you don’t believe me, watch Jack Lemmon do it too in the film – just in a different way. These characters are essentially hot-air-filled buffoons, as are most human beings. Mamet gives us his serious/not serious take on their buffoonery.

I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge that Luke Hewitt has the hardest character to interpret in George, who is a naive, passive, and sincere man in a room full of assholes, and the poor guy never gets to finish a sentence. Hewitt is the perfect choice for this role, and handles George’s befuddlement with a natural sincerity.

Will O’Mahony as Williamson is understated and aloof, never allowing himself to get tangled up in the hot tempers he’s surrounded by. O’Mahony does a fantastic job of letting the material absorb him, he never overshoots or anticipates in his reactions.  I wish I could get him to do Mamet’s Sexual Perversity in Chicago, he’d be the perfect Danny.

The turntable set designed by Richard Roberts solves the problem of needing two different locations, and it looks good. The bells and whistles are all there in the design elements, but of course, these mean nothing without solid performances and directing. This is a very good interpretation of GGR, full of all the good stuff that has made it so infamous. It’s in its last week now, so less than a handful of performances left. If you are a Mamet lover, you won’t be disappointed, and if this is your first time with Mamet, you will definitely understand why he is such an important figure in American theatre, tough as he may be.