When Glengarry Glen Ross debuted in 1984, David Mamet's play about Chicago real-estate agents redefined American theater with its own unique language, style and rhythm. The latest Broadway revival opened on December 8th at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, and I sat down recently with David Harbour, who plays office manager John Williamson to discuss the production.
"It's a play about relationships," said Harbour, and now after seeing it again 28 years later I couldn't agree more. The first time I saw the show I was affected by the language and the performances, and although I still enjoy that aspect, age and life experience have helped me understand that more than anything it's a play about the desperation of middle-aged men who are fighting for relevance and the almighty dollar. Harbour concurs: "The chalkboard displaying the amount of sales is the play's central metaphor -- a man is defined by his job."
I remember the original production being more about singular performances, while the current show focuses more on the relationships the actors have established. "We approached it from a very character-driven place, but we hit the Mamet rhythms," said Harbour. Any of us who've worked in an office have experienced the wide range of personalities Mamet thrusts upon us in Glengarry Glen Ross, and the least likable role goes to Harbour, who gives a fine performance. The characters all hate him, because he has the power to fire them if they don't make their sales quotas. They are all dependent on Williamson for sales leads, and must curry favor with him for that reason. Harbour says his character "gets no sympathy from anyone, but it's not his fault. He also has people to answer to."
Harbour also told me that he thinks the show "plays like a rock concert," and without a doubt, Bobby Cannavale's Richard Roma is the lead singer in this group. However, the performances by John C. McGinley, Richard Schiff and Al Pacino made me feel as if I was watching aging rock stars unraveling behind the scenes, which I find even more compelling. McGinley and Schiff work like a comedy team who have been on the boards together for 25 years, and it will be a huge mistake if these two don't do a revival of The Odd Couple as soon as possible.
Many people are going to see Glengarry Glen Ross expecting a star turn from Al Pacino, but that's not what the play or his character are about. Just the name Shelley "The Machine" Levene evokes memories of one of my portly cigar chomping Jewish relatives, and while Pacino does not embody him physically, he still ultimately delivers the deluded, tragic figure Mamet intended.
Director Daniel Sullivan has put together a wonderful ensemble cast for what I consider to be Mamet's finest work. I will always crack a smile and shed a tear for this group of connivers, con men and thieves.