Sunday, February 14, 2010

Play: Guy Talk

Glengarry Glen Ross by David Mamet, Directed by Wilson Milam, Seattle Rep through Feb 28.

Not a great choice as far as a "Valentine's Day play", but one of those great things about Season Tickets is that you don't necessarily control the dates. But I have to admit, I love this play. I loved it when I read it, and I love it in this performance.

This is a guy's play. It deals with a group of real estate salesmen selling undesirable properties to unwilling prospects. In short, selling swampland to chumps. They are the dog soldiers of real estate speculators, the boys uptown, and are being scammed much as they scam their clients. But they are so wrapped up in their own cons, their own tricks of survival that they subject themselves a sales contest in order to get the precious leads (prospective buyers) from corporate.

Williamson (MJ Sieber) is the office manager who controls the leads. Shelly (John Aylward) is an old pro on a bad patch. Roma (R. Hamilton Wright)is the new hotness, picking out weaknesses in clients like Lingk (Ian Bell) and zooming in on them. Moss (Charles Leggett) is the office blowhard and George (Russell Hodgkinson) is the struggling middleman. We get to know them individually, then there is a break-in and with the arrival of the police (Shawn Belyea as Baylen) puts the screws to the group.

I've seen all the actors in other works at the Rep (underscoring the Repertory nature of the title), but they all disappear into their characters seamlessly. R. Hamilton Wright, who've I've seen in numerous pieces from light and fluffy to Shakespeare, is so effective as Roma that I didn't even tweak to the fact it was him until the second act. These are men playing male roles, and they are very, very effective.

They're helped by the play itself - Mamet writes like people talk, with the pauses, and the interrupts and the zigzags. Everyone gets a moment, everyone gets a chance to make their case. Mamet is the exposed brickwork of American Theater. And yeah, he writes guys like they talk when they are among their own, in the machismo environment of competition. There are a lot of good moments here, but what I noticed was that there was a lot of male laughter in the darkness at the interactions. Anyone who has had to deal with a coworker explaining the way of the world to anyone who'll listen knows where these guys are coming from.

Its a tough play to grok as well. Those who don't know about the high pressure and sketchy nature of "vacation real estate" can be at a disadvantage, as would someone who would not know the importance of getting good leads. The play's structure itself is jarring - we meet the agents not as a mob, but in a series of scenes in a Chinese restaurant. Only in Act II, after the robbery, do we get into their dingy sanctum sanctorum and watch them triumph and self-destruct.

This is a great play for language and great play for actors. It's brief but meaty, and yeah, is more comprehensible on the stage than on page. This is a recommended.

Oh, and the big Alec Baldwin "Coffee is for Closers" bit? Mamet wrote it, but that's just for the movie, in part to give it a bit more grounding for the cinematic audience. Just so you know.

More later,