Front Row Center – February 2016

Front Row Center

By Michael Warren

Glengarry Glen Ross
By David Mamet
Directed by Bernadette Jones


front rowI went to see this production at the Bravo! theater with high expectations. After all, it won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1984, and also the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play. I had also been warned that a “strong language alert” was in force, and that the all-female cast (plus one male) were playing masculine parts.

The play shows parts of two days in the lives of four desperate Chicago real estate agents who are prepared to engage in any number of unethical, illegal acts—from lies and flattery to bribery, threats, intimidation and burglary—to sell undesirable real estate to unwitting prospective buyers. It is based on Mamet’s experience having previously worked in a similar office. Some of my expectations were met, and some were not. I must immediately tell you that the acting was amazing. This group of actors held my attention with such force that I never doubted their reality as male characters, and the frequent use of the “F” word seemed entirely natural. There was just one moment – I think it was when one of the actors touched up her lipstick – when the fourth wall was broken. Lighting a cigarette might have been a better move. The play itself – well, I don’t think it’s a great play, and I find it hard to understand how it ever won a Pulitzer Prize. There is a weak story line, and the only discovery we make is how much the characters dislike each other.

The actors, and Bernadette Jones as director, do a great job with the material. Jacinta Stringer plays “Shelly Levene” with extraordinary sensitivity. Shelly is an older, once successful, salesman who has not closed a big sale for a long time. At the end of the play, he discovers that a recent coup will never close and he visibly ages on stage – a wonderful piece of acting. The Office Manager “John Williamson” is perfectly played by Kathleen Carlson. Cold and efficient, John despises the desperate salesmen around him and hands out leads as bribes or favors. Kathleen Morris is “Dave Moss” who is a big-mouthed salesman full of dreams and schemes.

And Roseann Wilshere plays “George Aaronow” who is an aging salesman with low self-esteem. There is a scene in a Chinese restaurant between Dave and George which is very well played by both actors. Jayme Littlejohn gives a bravura performance as “Ricky Roma,” a fast-talking manipulative salesman who would sell his own mother if the commission rate were high enough. Ken Yakiwchuk is Ricky’s hapless client “James Lingk” and manages to convey his fear and desperation with great authenticity. One of the hardest things for an actor is to express emotion without speaking many lines, and Ken does a fantastic job. Finally, Barbara Pruitt does well as “Detective Baylen” – mainly she has to express impatience. Do these salespeople never stop talking?

Overall, I had mixed feelings about this play. During the show, I felt as if I were attending an advanced acting workshop, where the level of acting was very high. Congratulations to Bernadette Jones and all the crew for creating an extraordinary event.     

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