They're not nice men, these characters in David Mamet's scorching, profane, 1982 Pulitzer Prize-winning play about an office full of desperate real-estate salesmen/con-artists, Glengarry Glen Ross, now being performed at Chatham Community Players through March 19th. (Left: David Cantor of Berkeley Heights, Robert Mackasek of Union and Michael King of New Providence discuss a possible lead.)
These are the guys who send out those solicitations that promise you a "prize" if you call immediately to inquire about real estate. They are so cut-throat that they'll lie, cheat and yes, even steal from each other to win the incentive prize in this case, a Cadillac being offered by the office manager to boost sales.
In a series of three vignettes in the first act and a full-blown conflagration in the second, Mamet lets us see the sordid underbelly of land sales. Since these salesmen are based in Chicago and the land parcels they are selling at Glengarry Highlands in Florida are probably worthless, they will use any form of deception to fleece the suckers they refer to as "leads." The firm these men work for is a faceless corporation owned by the unseen Mitch and Murray, and the office manager is an unblinking cold fish who obviously doesn't like any of his employees.
Director Chase Newhart has assembled a top-notch cast of actors to portray this crew. In a bravura performance, the always terrific Michael King plays Shelly Levene, once a hotshot salesman, winning the office sweepstakes month after month. Now he is making no sales at all, his daughter is ill and it's heartbreaking to watch him grovel before office manager John Williamson, offering him first 10, then 20 and finally 50% of his commissions if only he won't be sacked. In these encounters, King reminds us of Willy Loman's pathetic posturing before his boss's son in Death of a Salesman. It's amazing how he appears to shrink before our very eyes! And, ever the salesman, he repeats his mantra, "Always be closing," even as his world crumbles to dust.
Williamson, his nemesis, is played by Jeffrey Jackson as a steely, unmovable automaton, a stickler for the rules with no idea what the men are going through, never having been a salesman himself. Even when the men direct the full force of their venom at him, he remains indifferent, for he holds all the marbles and can hire and fire at will. But he's wily, and when he finally does erupt, watch out.
Likewise, Jeff Maschi turns in a terrific performance as the non-stop talker Dave Moss. Tired of getting "nostalgia" (read, "old") leads which he cannot close, Moss tries to persuade the wimpy George Aranow, played by Robert Mackasek, to steal the precious leads kept under lock and key by Williamson so they can sell them to a competitor and jump the corporate ship. Maschi plays Moss like a steam roller on a tear as he intimidates the weaker man. Mackasek is a wonder as Aranow, a man who never completes a thought and who is terrified at the thought of being caught and put out of a job. Before rejecting the idea, he says to Moss, "We sat down to eat dinner, and now I'm a criminal!" His desperation is so palpable that we taste its metallic flavor on our tongues as he speaks.
The third pair includes salesman Richard Roma and his "mark," James Lingk, a nebbish he picks up and "seduces" in a Chinese restaurant. Spouting empty philosophical phrases, David Cantor (who stepped into the production last minute) is so mesmerizing that he grabs our attention from the moment he opens his mouth, even though we know he's talking "trash." He's hilarious in the second act when his mouth spews and interminable streak of obscenities as he tells off "the man" and later attempts to salvage the deal with Lingk, which is about to go sour. Lorenzo Sapienza's Lingk is a real Caspar Milquetoast, in over his head in a land deal his wife wants "out" of and unable to communicate that to Roma with any confidence. In this drama, where there isn't a single person to care about, Sapienza's character, the victim in the piece, is the only one to garner any sympathy although we want to slap him for not standing up to his wife. Finally, Frank Briamonte as Baylen turns in a very credible performance as a cop attempting to discover the truth about the robbery from four men who lie for a living. (Above: Lorenzo Sapienza of Bridgewater and David Cantor of Berkeley Heights discuss some very desirable real estate.)
These goings-on take place on a beautiful set designed by Roy Pancirov. A rather swanky Chinese restaurant which the men seem to habituate and a gritty Chicago real estate office provide the perfect milieu for these verbal confrontations and macho posturings. Fran Harrison's costumes and Richard Hennessy's lighting are appropriate without being obtrusive. Josh Samuels has provided a sound design that is rather eerie and sets one's teeth on edge even before the action starts.
One caveat, however: Mamet uses wall-to-wall profane and vulgar language, which, although entirely appropriate for the situation, may offend some theater-goers. Leave the children at home; neither the language nor the subject are suitable for young people.
In Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, the salesman is a symbol for the failure of the American dream. Willy Loman was out there all alone, trying to get by on a shoeshine and a dream. Chatham Community Players' tour de force production of Glengarry Glen Ross, with its cuththroat competition, is a parable for modern times. Just substitute "sub-prime mortgages" for "land" and "Wall Street bankers" for "real estate salesmen" and it's scary that not much has changed in the almost 30 years since the play was written.
Glengarry Glen Ross will be performed Friday through Saturday at 8 PM through March 19. For tickets and information, call the box office 973.635.7363. Chatham Community Players playhouse is located at 23 N. Passaic Avenue in Chatham