Dallas — In a TheaterJones guest column, Ashley H. White and Joe Messina (co-artistic directors) summed up their approach to their inaugural season of IMPRINT theatreworks with a question: “why be safe when you only get one shot at a First Season?” There is nothing safe about the works of David Mamet. Thus, IMPRINT boldly steps forward with Glengarry Glen Ross, onstage at the Bath House Cultural Center. This is how IMPRINT theatreworks says "WE'RE HERE."
Glengarry Glen Ross was first produced at Cottlesloe Theatre of the Royal National Theatre in London in 1983. In February of ‘84, it had its American premiere at the Goodman Theatre of the Arts Institute of Chicago before moving to the John Golden Theatre on Broadway in March. One month later, the play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Four Tony Award nominations followed including one for Best Play. Mamet adapted his play for the 1992 film, which introduced his characters to a much wider audience.
Glengarry Glen Ross is the story of four Chicago salesmen clawing for survival in a cut-throat real estate office. We enter a Chinese restaurant where three separate but intense conversations are in progress.
Shelly Levene (Mark Oristano) is in a slump, blaming his lackluster sales on the poor quality of leads distributed by supervisor John Williamson (Shane Beeson). Williamson dismisses that excuse and holds firm on distributing the new leads to high-earners. Levene desperately negotiates for a piece of that action.
At another table, Dave Moss (Kevin Moore) and George Aaronow (Lon Barrera) commiserate about the pressures of the job and the lack of understanding from management. Moss tells Aaronow about the success of their former colleague, Graff (never seen) who has started his own business from leads shadily acquired. Moss wants to steal the new leads and sell them to Graff, but he wants Aaronow to actually do the deed.
Sprawled out at a bigger table, high-earner Richard Roma (Joe Messina) has sniffed out a target, James Lingk (Ian Mead Moore) and is laser-focused on closing the sale.
When the salesmen return to the office the next day, they find that it was burglarized overnight. Detective Baylen (Sean Massey) is gathering clues and conducting interviews on site. Who robbed the office and stole the leads? Were the pending contracts deposited before the burglary or were they stolen along with the new leads?
Mamet is deliberately specific about language and punctuation, which creates a highly technical exercise that leaves the character analyses for actors to excavate. This is a polyrhythmic piece with profanity that is not as jarring as it was during the ’80s. Words once revolting and publicly disallowed now reverberate across all layers of society and the media. Director Ashley H. White has successfully worked with the cast to bring the play forward into our vocabulary-desensitized culture.
This cast digs into their work with the same intensity their characters bring to their jobs as salesmen.
Shelly, regarded favorably by Romo as Shelly-the-machine-Levene, is losing his rhythm as he ages and keeps replaying his greatest hits. Oristano’s physicality belies the depth of Levene’s inward spiral into desperation until the very end. He avoids rendering Levene as pitiable, showing instead the character’s fiery grit that was once his greatness.
In the hands of Barrera, Aaronow is that antsy guy who is funny without realizing it or understanding why. Barrera does not force the comedy; it is in his timing. Kevin Moore gets the brash, short-fused and ever-scheming Moss, delivering him at high volume.
Messina’s Romo smoothly skates between likability and deception. He takes his time, in distinction from the other characters’ rapidly overlapping dialogue. It works, especially during his dialogue with Levene.
This is an ensemble piece that does not work without Williamson, Lingk and Baylen. There are moments where Beeson looks like he is seconds away from punching Romo, who heaps the most abuse on Williamson. One look at Massey and it is clear he is serious and unlikely to accept bunk from anyone. Moore moves our response from empathy to concern for Lingk after he learns his worst fear has been realized.
All the action takes place against a sleek, clean white set by Ellen Mizener, with spare table settings and drinks in the first act, scatted paper and broken glass in the second, distinguishing the restaurant from the office. Lighting (Hudson Davis) brings in color, creating a cool space for the blaze the characters will create.
This production sets a tone for the rest of IMPRINT’s season, generating excitement and anticipation from DFW’s newest theater company.