Glengarry Glen Ross – Theatre Review: Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre, Scottsdale

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Even for those who have seen the play, the meaning behind the title of David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize winning drama Glengarry Glen Ross often eludes.  In true Mamet form where the author has taught that a play should move in proportion to how much the writer can leave out, the title tells you nothing.  And yet, ever since it’s initial opening in 1983, it remains enough to pique curiosity and make you want to know more.

The title comes from two real estate properties.  One is Glen Ross Farms, which at one time we learn was an extremely profitable area of land; the other is the new Glengarry Highlands, an existing piece of prime real estate that the four desperate salesmen of Mitch & Murray Real Estate Agency are trying to sell.  Neither have much to do with the issues of the play but they fall in line with the most important of all David Mamet playwriting lessons taught at his lectures, and it’s the same question you’ll ask at the conclusion of each of the three brief scenes throughout Act One: What happens next?

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Currently running at the smaller and more intimate Actor’s Café at Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre until May 15 is a new and unexpected powerhouse production of Glengarry Glen Ross where the ensemble is everything.  If you already know the piece, one glance at the players and you can tell who is playing whom.  If you’re unfamiliar, it doesn’t take long to appreciate how well director Virginia Olivieri has cast her production; each player is a precise representation of his character’s type.  Even if by default you’re drawn to Walt Pedano’s ruthless Ricky Roma or Kevin Tallent’s desperate Shelly ‘The Machine’ Levene, you’ll leave the theatre with the unmistakable impression that every performer, all seven of them, nailed those difficult targets in the way the play requires.

And it’s not just the appearances, it’s how the players deliver Mamet’s demanding, profane laden dialog. With the script’s scrappy sentences, its pauses, the occasional dithering and the overall uneven rhythm of its delivery, there’s a suggestion of something realistic in the language occurring, but don’t be fooled; it’s theatrical illusion.  Ask any actor who has performed a Mamet production; that dialog on paper is as precise as it needs to be.  Lose yourself then try to ad-lib your way back and you’ll be forever lost; deliver exactly as written and audiences will savor every hesitation along with every spoken word, even the profanity.  It’s a unique style that’s never easy to achieve, but there’s good news from the Actor’s Café – Olivieri’s cast delivers.

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Thirty-three years after its premiere, outlining Glenngarry’s plot feels redundant, particularly as the 1992 film was so well received, but what’s interesting are the comparison’s between the two mediums, how the story was told, and what the Desert Stages production has done with it.

During the film’s opening moments when Shelly Levene talks on the phone to his doctor regarding the deteriorating health of his daughter, there’s a certain amount of compassion leveled towards his character and an empathy for some of the actions he will later take, but the play has none of that.  His daughter is mentioned once during the second half to extract sympathy, but for all we know it could be just another Levene sales pitch using pity as a ploy to get what he wants.

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That now famous and often parodied always-be-closing speech by Alec Baldwin outlining the competition Mitch & Murray has devised among the sales team was never in the play, neither was the objectionable character; the contest itself is already in place.

Also, after some negative publicity that both the play and the film received regarding perceived prejudice against Indian families, playwright Mamet removed all mentions of the unseen but casually mentioned Patel family.  This Desert Stages production is the version as originally written.  Despite the need that some may have for political correctness, director Olivieri has left them in, and that’s as it should be.  These characters are shockingly profane.  Being PC – even if Mamet himself removed the references – has no place in Glengarry Glen Ross.

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The intimacy of performing in the Actor’s Café with only four rows of seating works in the play’s favor.  It’s one thing to see clearly, it’s another to feel as though you’re right there, observing every action, every facial expression, and hearing every nuanced muttering as clearly as though you were an omnipresent witness to everything that occurs, either in the Chinese restaurant where characters say just enough in three brief scenes to make us want to know what happens next, or the offices of Mitch & Murray where the concluding events of an overnight robbery play out in real time with a devastating reality.

During the fall of this year, Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre will move out of its current location on Scottsdale Road and into its new, expansive location previously occupied by Harkins Theatres in the Scottsdale Fashion Square.  Productions of this caliber presented with a talented cast of this standard guided by Virginia Olivieri’s self-assured direction all but guarantee that valley audiences will move and expand with them.

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 Pictures courtesy of Heather & Dana Butcher and Wade Moran

For more regarding times, dates and tickets, CLICK HERE for the official Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre website

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