Lauren Argo, Meghan Logue, & J. Ariadne Calvano in Glengarry Glen Ross. Photo: The Bard’s Town.
Glengarry Glen Ross
By David Mamet
Directed by Gracie Taylor
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright are © 2018 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
In this new production of Glengarry Glen Ross, the roster of characters, all men, are played by women. Why swap the genders? There should be a good reason lest the exercise seem merely a stunt. Maybe it’s enough to recognize that David Mamet is not known for writing very interesting female characters and that it is an opportunity for a group of actresses to wrestle with one of the most important American playwrights. Which also begs the question – should we be demanding more of our “important” playwrights than to give short shrift to one half of the population? But that is a bigger question than should be taken on in one review.
Mamet’s characters are real estate salesmen conning people into investing in property of dubious worth. They can be seen as venal and self-absorbed exemplifications of the toxic masculinity that defined American business for generations, which explains why only men and no women. Perhaps the fact that they are here portrayed by women throws the dark heart of patriarchal capitalism into high relief. At this point, the culture is accepting enough of women occupying roles previously monopolized by men that we have no problem watching women be just as nasty and mercenary in their actions.
Director Gracie Taylor incorporates the opening sequence from the 1992 film version in which a motivational barracuda (Megan Adair) reams three of the four salesmen in a brutal fashion. In a thoughtful nod to that source, it is presented in a video sequence directed by Hannah Hoopingarner. The scene is so memorable, the play now almost seems incomplete without it, and I enjoyed its inclusion here.
The desperation of these men is displayed in a scene in a Chinese restaurant between two of the salesmen, Dave Moss (Leslie Renee) and George Aronow (Lauren Argo), in which they discuss breaking into the office and stealing the prized but unavailable Glengarry leads. We then watch top salesman Ricky Roma (Meghan Logue) skillfully work an approach to a potential client, James Lingk (Francesca Socolick). The brilliance of Roma’s technique lies in the idea that he never “sells” anything. Mamet is fascinated with con men; it’s a recurring motif in his work, and you sense his admiration for the nuanced existential patter that Roma lays out.
Shelly “the machine” Levene (Rebecca Byars) comes in the next day having scored a big sale, only to be told by the office manager, John Williamson (J. Ariadne Calvano) that the office was indeed burgled and a police detective (Rachel Allen) is interviewing each of the salesmen, one at a time.
In general, the quality of performance was very good. Meghan Logue finds all of the ruthless cold steel of Ricky Roma while still earning our admiration. Rebecca Byars was maybe a little younger than Shelly Levene is typically portrayed, but she nicely keeps the sense of a drowning man clinging to a life raft even when “the machine” revels in his triumph. He’s been lying so long that he lies to himself out of habit. Lauren Argo makes George a more comic figure than usual, yet the choice seems only slightly off and Argo earns her laughs honestly. As Dave, Leslie Renee skewed younger and slicker than I would expect as if she is ranked just below Roma. Sharp but not the razor-edged animal that is Roma.
The production uses cosmetic differences and physical appearance to delineate the characters in smart ways that exploit the gender of the cast. Where men would have been most likely dressed in a limited range of business suits, a wider and subtler range of fashion is employed to show that Logue and Renee, for example, are mature (within this group anyway), confident, and well dressed, while Byars seems appropriately out-of-date in her fashion choices, Shelly being from a different, older generation than the others, and Calvano is officious and contained; a company man all the way. Argo sports a silvery wig, glasses, and dowdy wardrobe that borders on caricature, but again, she is taking a risk playing the character more broadly and pulls it off.
Rachel Allen can do little as the detective, the writing gives her no depth of character, but I do wish she had been a little less strident. Megan Adair as the barracuda is only seen in the filmed sequence but seems to be enjoying herself playing the choice scene. Taking no prisoners.
At one point Roma claims, “It is not a world of men”. But that world of men is identified as a world built on deceit, in which honor is often spoken but never lived. These characters’ notion of manhood is who can screw others over the most efficiently, and support others who are trying to do the same. Glengarry Glen Ross played by women only highlights the themes and clarifies them. We are accustomed to seeing the male Anti-hero defined by slippery morality and still cheering him on. But with women it feels like their fall from grace is greater; more tragic. Or perhaps that is just my male perspective. At any rate, the women here work it hard, and may just make you re-examine the world of men in a new light.
Glengarry Glen Ross
May 17-20, 24-28 @7:30 PM
The Bard’s Town
1801 Bardstown Road
Louisville, KY 40205
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, where he is Managing Editor of their Artebella blog, and host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX-FM 97.1/ ARTxFM.com. But spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.