A – Always.
B – Be.
G – Growing?
Growing, for a group of Girl Scout knockoffs called the Daffodil Girls, is indeed what happens. There is growth in many ways in Jeff Swearingen’s howlingly funny yet sharp and eerily appropriate adaptation of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross for Fun House Theatre and Film, presented in the studio theater at Plano Children’s Theatre. (The full title of Swearingen’s play, which was conceived by Bren Rapp, is Daffodil Girls, Inspired by David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross.)
Mamet’s original play follows a group of men in the real estate sales game. So, it’s not exactly a leap to transpose the events into the wildly popular Girl Scouts cookies sales game with the leads for real estate sales being replaced by street and storefront booth assignments. The assignments are highly sought after and the best ones are reserved for the best sellers.
Which leads to one of Swearingen’s best choices. As wonderful as Mamet’s original play is, the 1992 film adaptation added a character named Blake, played by Alec Baldwin, for one scene in which he comes to the office (replaced by a tree house in this adaptation) to motivate the employees via rather cruel and insulting language.
In Daffodil Girls, that role is Blayne (Laney Neumann), and she fills the space with her intensity and guile. Her speech has a particular effect on three of the former primary cookie sellers, the once-great but now down-on-he- luck Shelly (Kennedy Waterman), the irascible Dana (Lynley Glickler) and the shy kindergartener Georgina (Zoe Smithey). Faced with the prospect of being kicked out of the Daffodil Girls if they don’t perform well, desperation sets in. The one member not worried is the “patch’s” best seller, Raimi Roma (Lizzy Greene), who just oozes confidence as she inches ever more closely to the grand prize to the top seller—a pony party. And they’re all lorded over by the stringent and firm Willa (Marisa Mendoza), who in place of selling cookies, acts as the group’s motivational manager, though like Layne, her idea of motivation tends to tread closer to fear tactics than back-pats and hugs.
Fear leads Shelly, Dana, and Georgie down convergent and then dissecting paths that explore the drudging and fearful life of sales, which stems to the larger theme of commercialism that so informs the concept of the American Dream.
These are pretty adult themes, and Mamet is in no way child-friendly. And that’s why the skillful adaptation deserves praise. Because not only are basic terms and settings changed, but backstories which inform the characters’ motivations are altered just enough to maintain the general makeup of each character’s defining qualities and role within the larger story. The real estate salesman Shelly’s sick daughter is replaced by the Daffodil Girl Shelly’s divorced parents and the effort to get them back together. Mitch and Murray become Willa’s parents as opposed to Williamson’s bosses. And so on and so forth.
There was an easy way to do this. Audiences would have been amused enough at a straight adaptation simply because it’s funny, and oddly makes a lot of sense given what a great racket the Girl Scouts have with those tasty, tasty cookies. But Rapp and Swearingen took it deeper and actually transposed everything that made the original play great into this one. It’s not just novelty.
And beyond that, the performances elicited from the young cast are nothing short of phenomenal. It’s obvious, and makes sense that, the movie was the primary inspiration. Waterman captures Jack Lemmon’s earnestness. Greene nails the cocksure attitude of Al Pacino. Mendoza is essentially a female Kevin Spacey. Glickler captures Ed Harris’ meteoric temper with hilarious ends. And Neumann has clearly spent plenty of time in careful study of Alec Bladwin’s epic “coffee is for closers” monologue. But again, just like with the adaptation itself, this isn’t just aping. This group of girls is talented. Shelly is the audience’s entry into the story and Waterman effectively pulls them along the series of events, eventually leaving them to pity her untenable situation. It’s heartbreaking—and she’s only 11. There’s some true young talent on display here.
So, the theme of growing, as it’s applied within the story as kind of the Daffodil Girl mantra, stands in place of the original’s “Always Be Closing.” It’s also an apt descriptor for the production itself. Despite the transformation of an adult play into a children’s play, the material and characterization and performances required are still meaty and challenging. Rapp and Swearingen showed off some serious growth by pulling the concept and the script off, aided well by set designer Joseph Cummings and master carpenter Ben Bryant. And the cast shows growth by taking on and completely inhabiting the mature roles entrusted to them. And finally, it lets the audience’s perspective grow as they get the downright fun opportunity to see a classic reimagined.
◊ To read Mark Lowry's feature about Fun House Theatre and Film, click here.