Review: Asolo Rep excels at selling 'Glengarry Glen Ross' in Sarasota

wtatangelo@bradenton.comJanuary 13, 2013 

David Mamet's Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning "Glengarry Glen Ross," a mystery featuring scumbag real estate salesmen that doubles as an adroit examination of capitalism, gets my votes for the greatest play of the past 30 years.

But that doesn't mean it's easy to get right.

All those famed pauses and clipped sentences; the fusillade of foul language; the staccato, brilliance of the musical "Mamet speak;" it can fall apart at any moment and leave the audience at an utter loss.

The angular rhythms of the language have prompted countless pundits to liken the master contemporary playwright's dialogue to jazz, but that's misleading because it infers that there's room for improvisation. For "Glengarry Glen Ross" to succeed, the director and actors must, among other things, be completely in sync with the text and all the deftly placed empty spaces that make the language come alive. One wrong pause can lead to catastrophe.

There's another major issue when putting on "Glengarry Glen Ross."

Most people in the audience have already seen it staged and viewed the outstanding 1992 movie of the same name. Many, like me, have probably also read the play, hoping to gain greater insight to Mamet's genius or just for the sheer joy of it. It's an amazing read.

But the movie element presents the biggest problem for the men on stage. Although the awesome opening scene starring Alec Baldwin as Blake only appears in the film, the rest of the movie is pretty much the play opened up.

It features killer performances by the likes of Jack Lemmon (Shelley "The Machine" Levene), Al Pacino (Ricky Roma), Ed Harris (Dave Moss), Alan Arkin (George Aaronow) and Kevin Spacey (John Williamson). These are performances not easily erased from one's memory, especially, if, like me, you practically have the movie memorized.

Despite all these challenges, the Asolo Repertory Theatre's production of "Glengarry Glen Ross" is a tour de force that left me completely satisfied, almost giddy, following the opening night performance Friday. The first act's 35 minutes flew by like a brilliant blur while the second and final 45 minutes were as gripping as anything I've seen staged. For me, at least, theater really doesn't get any more entertaining.

Credit Michael Edwards, the Sarasota company producing artistic director, for choosing to stage this play from 1983 that's still deemed controversial because of all the naughty words. Also applaud Edwards for picking an exceptional director in Carl Forsman (Dean of the University of North Carolina School for the Arts, he directed the Asolo's acclaimed production of "A Few Good Men" during the 2006-2007 season) and an equally talented cast consisting of guest artists and Asolo Rep regulars.

All seven men on stage were commendable with Jay Patterson, a New York stage, television, and film veteran who appeared in the 2005 Broadway version of "Glengarry Glen Ross," completely owning Moss, the driving force behind the office drama.

Dave Breitbarth, in his 17th season with Asolo Rep, again astounded with his dexterity as Aaronow, the salesman with pitifully low self-esteem while Douglas Jones, in his 27th season with Asolo Rep, proved just as agile as aging, formerly successful salesman Levene.

"Glengarry Glen Ross," one of the most important plays of our generation, has received a must-see production by the Asolo Rep.

Details: Jan. 11-Feb. 28, Mertz Theatre in the FSU Center for the Performing Arts, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Tickets: $20-$72. Information: 941-351-8000 or www.asolorep.org.

Wade Tatangelo, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7057. Follow Twitter.com/wtatangelo.

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