Glengarry Glen Ross Shines with Unique Take on Characters
Lawrance Bernabo, Duluth News Tribune
October 26, 2012
You might have seen David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross before, but you have not seen the production that opened Thursday night at the Duluth Play Ground. Not because odds are you have never seen the play performed by a female cast, but because even if you have, you probably have not seen the unique collection of characterizations that graced the stage. The show that Lawrence Lee has directed is a long way from a stunt, baby.
A real estate office in Chicago is having a sales contest for its four salesmen. The winner wins a Cadillac while the bottom two salesmen will be summarily fired. A chalkboard keeps track of the sales each woman is racking up. At the top of the local ladder of success is Ricky Roma (Priscilla McRoberts). She spins her webs in terms of the big picture, and her customers get the feeling she is doing them a favor. McRoberts leavens Roma’s sarcasm with a sweetness more compatible with her gender and there is a sense of genuine support for some, but not all, of her co-workers.
The play’s second scene, in which we meet Moss (Tammy Ostrander) and Aaronow (Laura Westerberg), is the one where you most forget that this play was written to be performed by men as the two ladies who lunch create an absolute gem of a dialogue. Waving her chop stick like a conductor leading her co-worker down the garden path, Ostrander finds the perfect rhythm for the scene, which begins as a bitch session and segues into something approaching an Abbott & Costello routine where there is a laugh to be had around virtually every corner.
As Shelly Levene, Mary Lee transforms the part from a desperate man prepared to take desperate measures, into a tough old broad who is getting her second wind. She tells the story of her big sale like it is a cross between a war story and a miracle from the Gospels. People who come expecting Jack Lemmon are going to find he has been replaced by Elaine Stritch, and what they are going to discover is that such a radical shift in the character is pretty brilliant, because it works across the board from vocal inflections to body language.
John Williamson (Christa Schulz), the office manager, is the odd woman out, because unlike the rest her salary is not based on the competitive world of commissions. Everybody else is playing a game where she does not understand the rules, and there is an exquisite moment when Williamson goes too far and Schulz makes her turn brittle before our eyes.
At its heart, Glengarry Glen Ross is a scathing indictment of American business. The play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1984, and time has done nothing to diminish its power or truth, especially today when most of us think it is Main Street versus Wall Street, and we are stuck on the wrong street.
The greater pitfall of the unique casting approach is to reduce what is happening to the idea that women are acting like men, and I think both the play and this production avoid that because the characters and their dialogue are so compelling. I do not think any of the principles made a bad choice in terms of how they approached their characters. Their choices were unique and interesting, and who could ask for anything more.
Glengarry Glen Ross
One aspect of art is to take something and see it in a different light, and that is exactly what Director Lawrence Lee did with this production of Glengarry Glen Ross. Although traditionally an all male cast, Lee decided to think outside of the box and see what would happen if this show was performed with all female actors without altering the original script. In his director’s notes, Lee explains that since there are no changes to the script, “This means women refer to each other as ‘he’ and have un-likely names such as ‘Dave’.” His intent is clearly to bring the audience out of their comfort zones, give them new perspective on art, and give them something to talk about.
It is arguable whether or not he succeeded in his endeavors. The actresses were all superb in showing an aggressive side without being overly “butch”. After a while one could argue that their genders eventually dissolved into the story line and it almost became easy to forget the strangeness of the casting. However, it did have a negative effect on the reality of the show and aesthetic distance was heightened. It was much easier to remember that the people on stage were clearly acting. Although from an artistic standpoint, the show was successful in creating something to get the audience thinking and appreciate the thought put into it.
The actresses all worked very well together and had exceptional give and take. In the first act the show is categorized by pairs of women that come on at separate times. There was always a clear aggressor and a clear follower and the relationships between the two were clear and often quite hilarious. The string of profanities was endless and taken in the context of women, it made it even more laughable in parts.
Each actress did well in portraying her own specific character and reacting well to the situations presented. Desperation was clearly the main selling point for the characters as they struggled to earn money to survive. Priscilla McRoberts did this extremely well. Playing salesman Richard Roma, her acting and personality out-shined the rest of the cast as she sinisterly laughed and cackled in her own desperation. Her scene with nervous client James Lingk (Michelle Strand-Juntunen) was especially hilarious and she did well at portraying the slick salesman with the hidden agenda.
The set was small, to the point, and worked well for what it needed to accomplish. A singular booth at a Chinese restaurant was the sole set piece for the first act and was all that was needed. The second act set was more complex and had many parts. It well exhibited the chaotic working office and although small, accomplished what was needed of it.
The costumes had a similar simplicity. Each woman wore a professional looking pant-suit that one might see a modern salesman wearing. They were all mostly women’s clothing despite the characters being male. This was a little confusing but left room for lots of imagination.
The show was definitely something else. It got the audience thinking outside of the box and provided a whole new perspective to the true art of theatre. It was well performed and very entertaining. The viewers had to consciously look past the strange casting. One might be compelled to say that the show didn’t work, but it’s clear that it wasn’t meant to.
This page contains a single entry by Mark Harvey published on October 26, 2012 10:00 AM.
Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up? - UMD Theatre was the previous entry in this blog.
White Baby - UMD Theatre is the next entry in this blog.
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