April 18 CNY Playhouse: Glengarry Glen Ross

Office Manager John Williamson (Justin Polly, left) learns a lesson the hard way about blowing a sale from top salesman Ricky Roma (Nathan Faudree, center) while Baylen (Steve Rowlands) and Levene (Jack Sherman) watch on (photo: Amelia Beamish)

Office Manager John Williamson (Justin Polly, left) takes a hard lesson from top salesman Ricky Roma (Nathan Faudree, center) while Baylen (Steve Rowlands) and Levene (Jack Sherman) watch on, in the CNY Playhouse production of David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross” (photo: Amelia Beamish)

CNY Playhouse closes the deal in ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’

A fine ensemble of actors all but ooze oil in David Mamet’s look at the unctuous business of the hard sell  

By Barbara Haas

The Central New York Playhouse isn’t afraid to tackle the important American plays. Last spring the company staged a fine Death of a Salesman, directed by Kasey Marie McHale. Now they’ve put on an equally creditable production of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, again under McHale’s direction.

In a way, Mamet’s play is an offshoot of one of Arthur Miller’s. One of the characters, Shelly Levene (Jack Sherman) is a washed out, has-been salesman like Willy Loman — who remembers the old days when he could close many deals in a month. But nobody is going to weep for Shelly the way Willy Loman’s wife does for him. In fact, family members of either sex have no place in the cutthroat real estate office of Mamet’s tightly focused play.

Mamet gets right to the point with the opening pep talk by Blake (Dan Rowlands), who is like a drill sergeant from Hell warning the staff to shape up — or else.

“There is only one thing in life that counts,” Blake tells the room full of salesmen. For him, ABC stands for Always Be Closing.

“Get them to sign on the line which is dotted,” he shouts.

An emissary of the unseen but all-powerful Mitch and Murray downtown (as distant and unknowable a place as Kafka’s castle), Blake holds up a clicking pair of steel balls to underscore his point when he asks, “Are you man enough to take their money?”

Justin Polly (far left), Keith Arlington (seated), and Jack Sherman (far right) get schooled in closing techniques from Dan Rowlands in the CNY Playhouse production of "Glengarry Glen Ross" (photo: Amelia Beamish)

Justin Polly (far left), Keith Arlington (seated), and Jack Sherman (far right) get schooled in closing techniques from Dan Rowlands (photo: Amelia Beamish)

The salesmen are desperate to comply. Either they get their name to the top of the ranking that hangs on the back wall of the office, or they’re out of work. Little more than con artists (supposedly there is a place called Glengarry Glen Ross — there’s also a map hanging on the wall, but we never learn anything about it), these men use all their wily skills to capture their prey.

Part of the nasty fun of the play is watching a shyster in action. The boldest, most inventive of these is Richard Roma (Nathan Faudree). Having spotted a likely mark, Jim (Simon Moody) in a barroom, Roma bamboozles him with an incredible monologue. The speech is Mamet at his best. It sounds vaguely world-wise and hedonistic (“There’s an absolute morality? Then what? If you think there is, be that thing”), but actually what Roma says is meaningless. Once he has completely bamboozled his prey, he moves in to make the sale.

James Lingk (Simon Moody, left) falls victim to the smooth selling of Ricky Roma, played by Nathan Faudree in the CNY Playhouse production of "Glengarry Glen Ross" (photo: Amelia Beamish)

James Lingk (Simon Moody, left) falls victim to the smooth selling of Ricky Roma, played by Nathan Faudree (photo: Amelia Beamish)

It’s even more fun to witness the trickster being caught at his own game. When Jim subsequently shows up at the real estate office to get his check back (“My wife…” is all the explanation he needs to give), Roma, with Shelly’s help, puts on a little act about regretfully having to rush off to the airport, so sorry. It’s the one glimmer of cooperation in the play, but then wolves do likewise when they’re circling their quarry.

Hats off to Director McHale for having assembled a fine cast that works together with precision to pull off a difficult and challenging play to stage. Who would have thought there were so many talented mature male actors to be found in local community theater? McHale took full advantage of her cast’s physical characteristics. With his powerful voice and imposing presence, Nathan Faudree was well-cast as the blustering Roma. He towered over his quarry, Jim — whose completely bald head McHale at first shows us only from the rear. Comparatively mild-mannered Jack Sherman crumpled noticeably when his dishonesty was revealed.

The entire cast seemed at ease in Mamet’s street language, famous for its liberal use of the F-bomb but unique in other ways as well. Even when a character was mostly listening, as was Keith Arlington as George when red-shirted Jim Uva as Dave is trying to steamroll him into being an accomplice, the interaction between them was always there.

Though not as mean as Dan Rowlands’s Blake as he put out his cigarette in Shelly’s coffee early in the play, Justin Polly was coolly menacing as the manager, John each time he emerged from the office in the corner of Rowlands’s effective set.

Is Glengarry Glen Ross an indictment of the dog-eat-dog, devil-take-the-hindmost capitalist system? You bet it is. All these people are desperately grasping for that golden ring, and they don’t care whom they knock over in the attempt. The closing line of the play says it all:

“I hate this job.”

Details Box:
What: Glengarry Glen Ross by David Mamet, directed by Kasey Marie McHale

Who: Central New York Playhouse
Where: Shoppingtown Mall, Dewitt NY
Performance reviewed: Saturday, April 18, 2015
Remaining performances: Plays through May 2
Ticket information: Call 315-885-8960 or http://www.cnyplayhouse.com
Length: About two hours and 20 minutes, including intermission
Ticket prices: $17 to $20; $34.95 dinner & show (Sat. Apr. 25 only)
Family guide: May leave you aching to buy worthless land in the Florida Everglades; profanity

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