I used to work at a company where the guys in sales would watch Glengarry Glen Ross to get psyched. It's apparently a common phenomenon, and it always reminds me of how U.S. soldiers can cheer at the action scenes of purportedly anti-war films like Apocalypse Now.
No doubt playwright David Mamet intended 1984's Glengarry Glen Ross to eviscerate rosy conceptions of American business in its depiction of cutthroat Chicago real estate salesmen. Maybe Mamet succeeded too well in creating his vividly vicious characters. Even if you don't admire the play's lineup of white-collar bully boys, their coarse collisions can provide a theatrical spectacle as thrilling as kickboxing or cockfighting.
At the Alliance Hertz Stage production (extended through April 15), director BJ Jones, a Chicago native, keeps the tempers and temperature high while never losing sight of the play's rough-and-tumble humor. Larry Larson and David de Vries prove particularly funny, volleying half-finished sentences back and forth like a practiced comedy team. Glengarry Glen Ross' anti-heroes speak in such a staccato shorthand partly because they're salesmen trying to sell each other, to hustle a colleague into a personal break or an office break-in.
The Hertz Stage production wrings every drop of excitement from the bracing script. Still, Glengarry Glen Ross isn't exactly a subtle play, full of laughs and tension but few surprises to anyone familiar with its reputation. Jones throws a curve with the nontraditional casting of African-American actor Neal Ghant as agency top dog Ricky Roma. Ghant's presence implies a challenge to the white, old-boy power structure without needing to make any overt statements. Ghant plays the role to perfection, proving there's more to Ricky than just his swagger. As the office's leading earner, he's warm and magnanimous with the comrades he likes, but utterly contemptuous to those who earn his wrath.
Ghant also captures the hypnotic quality to Ricky's soft-spoken sales pitch, which seems to lay out a philosophy to live for the moment, but shifts before tipping his hand too overtly. Glengarry Glen Ross envisions salesmanship not merely as playing a game, but trying to rig a game, to cheat anyone – the mysterious employers, the hapless customers – in the name of getting an edge. The only unresolved question is, does Glengarry Glen Ross' portrait of American enterprise present an exception to the rule, or just business as usual?
Glengarry Glen Ross. Extended through April 15. $35-$65. Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 and 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Alliance Theatre Hertz Stage, Woodruff Arts Center, 1280 Peachtree St. 404-733-5000. www.alliancetheatre.org.
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