Mamet’s words still ring true with fine cast of ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’ at the La Jolla Playhouse

Let’s Review

By Jessica Ordon

Two things are impossible to miss on entering the Potiker Theatre at La Jolla Playhouse for a performance of “Glengarry Glen Ross.” First, there are the massive, fading billboards mounted above the stage. One features a worn-out, barely discernable “Jaws” movie ad (appropriate for the early 1980s setting), and the other champions the Morton Salt girl as the “Taste of Chicago.”

Peter Maloney, Manu narayan, Johnny Wu and ray anthony Thomas in La Jolla Playhouse’s production of ‘Glengarry Glen ross,’ by david Mamet, directed by christopher ashley, running through Oct. 21. Craig SChwartz

The second eye-popping element in the theater is a tank full of live goldfish onstage, a decorative piece in the run-down Chinese restaurant where the first act occurs. As “Glengarry Glen Ross” unfolds, the image of goldfish frantically out-swimming each other in a confined tank keeps coming back.

David Mamet’s real-estate salesmen are desperate people, consumed by ambition to achieve the American Dream, trapped in an unfair system. They beg, lie, and steal to win a company contest for the most closings (signed real-estate deals), all the while manipulating each other for their own personal gain.

This canonical American drama is a tank filled with sharks and the bitter taste of salt. Mamet’s signature as a playwright is his stinging dialogue, at once full of musicality, humor, and vulgarity. Director Christopher Ashley’s talented cast rises magnificently to the challenge of speaking Mamet’s text. The mesmerizing rhythm the actors create with their words carries the show to its swift ending, an abrupt halt like a sharp intake of breath.

Manu Narayan gives an energetic performance as Richard Roma, a character made up of off-color charm, luck, and lies. Closely following him is Peter Maloney, a veteran actor of Mamet’s work, as Shelley Levene. Maloney’s fumbling, washed-up Levene is the ideal blend of pitiable and funny, played with just enough humor to make the audience laugh without ever actually liking the character. Ray Anthony Thomas also shines as George Aaronow, a struggling salesman who, unlike Levene, does compel audible sympathy from the audience. Overall, the cast delivers an excellent execution of a tough-to-swallow play.

Ashley’s staging is likewise smart and precise. Rather than frame real-estate sales and the American Dream as primarily white, middle-aged men’s concerns, the cast of this production is multiracial, a more realistic and contemporary treatment of the play.

Todd Rosenthal’s set design is incredibly detailed and evocative of the sleazy Chicago real estate scene, down to the busted seats in the Chinese restaurant and rusting metal filing cabinets in the firm’s office. It is interesting to note how the play dates itself, though, in spite of its continued popularity. For example, the theft of landline phones and typewriters from the real-estate office upends everyone’s business for the day, an almost nostalgic reminder of a time without cell phones and laptops.

Although this gives the play’s age away, it does so in a way that credits the piece’s endurance. That Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross” still proves provocative, startling, and raw almost 30 years after it was first produced is a testament to the vivacity and view-worthiness of this piece.

If you go

What: ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’

When: Matinees, evenings, now to Oct. 21

Where: Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse, UCSD campus

Tickets: From $15

Phone: (858) 550-1010


Related posts:

  1. La Jolla Playhouse reveals three of the shows in its new season
  2. Competitive world of real estate sales plays out in Glengarry Glen Ross coming to La Jolla Playhouse
  3. Jesus Christ Superstar’ to open on Broadway after La Jolla Playhouse run during the holidays
  4. Let’s Review: Pageant dream is a win for family down on its luck in ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ at the Playhouse
  5. Handful of surprises in La Jolla Playhouse’s upcoming season

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Posted by Staff on Sep 26, 2012. Filed under A & E, Theater. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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