— Bart Anderson and Eric McCormack in the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Glengarry Glen Ross. Photo by Emily Cooper.
GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS
A couple of years ago an Equity Co-op production of Glengarry Glen Ross took Vancouver by storm. Staged in a tiny 40-seat Main Street storefront, the show put its audience in immediate contact with the sweaty, sleazy Darwinian desperation of Mamet’s wannabe Masters of the Universe, an office-full of speculative real estate salesmen battling for survival and a Cadillac in the dog-eat-dog American ‘80s.
By contrast, the Arts Club’s Glengarry is as elegant as its Stanley Theatre venue. Kevin McAllister’s opening set with its beautifully lit fish tank and hydraulic false proscenium probably cost more than Main Street’s entire production. And with handsome TV star Eric McCormack leading the pack, one might be forgiven for expecting a safer, more sanitized Mamet.
But Michael Shamata’s production comes across like a kick in the balls. Mamet’s vicious dialogue and eviscerating analysis of the dark side of the American capitalist dream remain utterly uncompromised. And the acting is absolutely first-rate. There’s not a false note anywhere in the cast and McCormack is simply brilliant.
The key to Mamet’s world of men is their motto, Always Be Closing. They are never not selling something, whether worthless Florida swampland or their own personal lies and self-delusions. The weakest of them, old-timer Shelley “The Machine” Levene (a sensational Gerard Plunkett), believes his own bullshit. Or stops believing it and falls apart, like anxiety-ridden Aaronow (Brian Markinson in a marvelous illustration of the less-is-more principle of acting). Super-aggressive Moss (John Pyper-Ferguson) is only slightly more functional, going on the attack at every opportunity. Tight-assed office manager Williamson (Vince Gale) mostly keeps his mouth shut and takes incredible abuse from his salesmen but will screw them at the slightest opportunity. Try working out exactly what he does to Levene. Always Be Closing.
McCormack’s Ricky Roma is without a doubt the group’s Alpha-male. Lithe, slick, physically and vocally precise, McCormack controls every scene he’s in, sometimes with just an easy gesture like rolling a chair across to another character with a flick of his foot. Roma is the only one who seems totally comfortable inside his own serpentine skin, and McCormack manages to make him at once repulsive and somehow likeable. His insouciance fits him perfectly, like costume designer Nancy Bryant’s slightly too-tight disco-ish suit. This is no TV star slumming in the theatre; McCormack is a superb stage actor returning to his first and natural home. And what a triumphal return it is.
The note-perfect cast also includes Bart Anderson as Roma’s hapless mark, Lingk, and Daren Herbert as the cop investigating the break-in and theft at the office. The weakest element of the script is the way the cop lets the salesmen berate him when he asks each one to come in for questioning—particularly Roma. A real Chicago cop would have a nightstick in the guy’s back or a gun to his head in a second if anyone mouthed off to him like that. Mamet should know better.