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Warning: All-Male Cast for Glengarry Glen Ross Means High Testosterone Levels at Deep Dish

October 25, 2009 - Chapel Hill, NC:


Staggering from Deep Dish Theater after Glengarry Glen Ross, David Mamet’s excoriating two-act exposé of competition, chicanery, and corruption among real estate hustlers, I felt dizzy, and experienced a bizarre need to purchase frothy lingerie and drink something sweet with whipped cream. It was testosterone overload, pure and simple; and while that hormonal drenching might put the viewer out of whack, its excess is a necessary minimum in an all-male play featuring guys who firmly believe there are far more things than one that take balls.

Director Paul Frellick cast an excellent ensemble well able to take on Mamet’s filthy poetical language, and to convey his characters’ bottomless misogyny and brash bullishness, while subtly revealing their weaknesses and fears. Leading this pack of cunning wolves is the inimitable David Ring as Shelley “The Machine” Levene. Ring played this part at Raleigh Ensemble Players 20 years ago, and in his biographical note says he’s grateful to have lived long enough to play it again. I’m grateful, too, because he is even better this time around — more rumpled, more desperate, hapless, stupid, and mean. Time has, of course, done its thing on Ring’s face and body since 1989, which is all to the good when he stands next to the young shark Ricky Roma, whose clear, unlined features, satiny skin, and crisp clothes speak of the early successes that put him at the top of the board ranking the salesmen’s “production.” Roma is played by Joshua Purvis, in his first outing on a Triangle stage; and Purvis goes like a missile to the heart of Roma’s immorality.

Byron Jennings, master of cool and control, does an excellent job with the role of the office manager who marshals leads and doles them out to the salesmen. Jennings is particularly good at building a character, luring us into sympathy with him — then flipping the card to reveal the deeper character beneath. When that happens here, late in the second act, one begins to realize how deep are the games being played, and how uncertain it is who’s fooling whom. Veterans Harvey Sage and John Murphy are both fine as the two agents in the middle of the pack — at least one of whom will lose his job at the end of the month’s sales competition, when the two lowest earners will be fired (and symbolically emasculated). Murphy, with his leathery hatchet face, is frightening as the raging Moss; and Sage as Aaronow seems his natural victim. The other characters are one of Roma’s marks, the sucker Lingk (Jonathan Leinbach, appropriately tentative), and the rough police detective (Michael Goolsby) investigating a burglary at the real estate office during which leads and contracts were stolen.

Mamet’s play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1984 (the sales numbers are terribly dated), and was subsequently made into a film with several high-octane actors, so it is a big challenge for a small theater like Deep Dish to take on. The success of this production stems from its cast and Frellick’s taut direction, but its power is greatly enhanced by the double set designed by Jennifer Mann Becker and by Max Maximov’s harrying sound design. For maximum impact, sit close. But be forewarned: It gets ugly in Mamet’s world; and although you may laugh out loud, Glengarry Glen Ross is not an entertainment, but a brutal reminder that survival is the first imperative.

Glengarry Glen Ross continues at Deep Dish Theater through Nov. 14th. See our theatre calendar for details.