Always be closing.
David Mamet's 1984 Pulitzer prize-winning drama, Glengarry Glen Ross receives a sometimes electric revival at Broadway's Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre. Headlined by Al Pacino as Shelly Levene and Bobby Cannavale as Ricky Roma, this production directed by Daniel Sullivan builds slowly, with pacing that could use a boost in the opening act. The tensions among the storied salesmen remain high and the comedic moments sure fired and appropriate. Yet, perhaps because of the fact that we are have gone through one of the world's worst recessions, this Glengarry Glen Ross seems to focus more on the washed up salesman Shelly Levene and less on the riveting, sleaze sales tactics of the current real estate selling king, Ricky Roma. Still this is justly one of the hottest (and most expensive) tickets in New York.
The story concerns Chicago real estate salesmen, working on commission to sell risky land development ventures. The top salesmen wins a Cadillac, second place a set of steak knives, third place gets fired. We first meet the majority of the characters in the setting of a local Chinese restaurant. For the salesmen, it is clear that getting the best leads is key to success. Failure will lead to unemployment. This cutthroat business leads to desperate acts and a break-in, the aftermath of which is dealt with in act two and leads to a powerful denouement.
This is a play in which the sales leads and the pitch are king. The small ensemble is, quite simply perfectly cast. From Jon C. McGinley as Dave Moss who suggests the robbery of the office and his scene partner Richard Schiff's George Aaronow as the burned out salesmen tempted to follow through with it, to Murphy Guyer as the detective Baylen, there are no weak links in this cast. David Harbour as the office manager John Williamson exudes sleaze trying to push out the older, has-been Levene while being willing to consider taking a bribe to let him stay in the business. As the put-upon customer James Lingk, Jeremy Shamos has a mild-mannered persona that clearly shows how easily he comes under the mesmerizing Ricky Roma's spell.
Bobby Cannavale is certainly mesmerizing as Roma. In his hypnotic first act scene he reels in both Lingk and the audience before coming in for the kill. Sophisticated in his clothing and his bearing, Roma is the king of the office. Yet, he shows a softer side when he defends Shelly Levene at Levene's nadir.
To see Mr. Cannavale and Mr. Pacino pull a brilliant con to prevent Mr. Lingk from canceling his purchase is to witness a work of art. Mr. Pacino was memorable as Roma in the film version. Here he takes on the desperate Shelly "the machine" Levene. Mr. Pacino shines when he shows Levene's euphoria when he thinks he's worked his magic and has crawled back to the top of the sales chain. Yet, his underlying desperation as Levene begs, borrows and steals in order to simply stay in the game is painful and pitiful to watch. It is an emotional arc that cements this production as a must see in its limited run on Broadway.
Glengarry Glen Ross is being performed at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre on Broadway through January 20, 2013. For tickets and other performance information please visit www.glengarrybroadway.com.