Ronald Reagan became president in 1981, and three years later, when David Mamet’s "Glengarry Glen Ross" hit Broadway, America was in the throes of ambitious commercialism and a lust for material wealth.
Mamet won a Pulitzer Prize for his searing story about men and their lust, their savagery to each other and the personal wilderness they often find themselves stuck in.
The play has been done often, at all levels, since its Broadway debut, and the version that opened at Off The Wall Theatre on Thursday night is a production that matches the explosive power of the script.
Under the direction of Jeremy C. Welter, who also takes a turn as one of the main characters, Off The Wall captures both the frightening immorality and problematic redemption of Mamet’s play. As an added measure, this production also finds humanity in men who seem overwhelmed with greed.
The story is about five real estate salesmen. It takes place in 1983 in Chicago, and the entire play is focused on two things: The Lead and The Board.
The Lead is the path to wealth. It’s the tip of the spear that can be driven into the heart of poverty and cure the illness of being without. The Lead is cherished, battled over and lusted after by the salesmen who know that it is only through the possession of good leads will they be able to achieve.
Which brings us to The Board, where the score is kept. Just the way success was measured in the '80s – your car, your wife, your job, your country club, your golf handicap, your watch, your suits, your college – the Board measures the monthly success of the salesmen.
And The Board represents the catch-22 of the driven pursuit of material wealth. You need to be on The Board to get the best leads. Without the best leads, it’s virtually impossible to get your name on The Board.
The production at Off The Wall is led by an exquisite performance by veteran Milwaukee actor Michael Pocaro, as Shelly Levene, the veteran salesman who finds his history of success not mattering even a little bit as younger generation of smarter, more cunning and empathy-free salesmen take center stage.
Pocaro captures both the sorrow of a man whose time has almost run out and the craven nature of his dismal efforts to retain a shred of dignity and prosperity. He’s willing to lie, cheat, bribe and even close his eyes to the fools he convinces to sign a contract that is worthless.
Welter’s Richard Roma is the manipulative hotshot in the office. He sits on top of The Board and is brutal in his drive to stay there, reaping the benefits of being the star. Money, a Cadillac and vacations are all in his sights if everyone else would just cooperate and give him the best leads that he believes are his due.
Played by Joe Krapf, Dave Moss is the most obviously schemer of all the salesmen, trying to structure the theft of a list of prime leads so he can sell them to another realtor. Krapf does marvelous justice to the disgusting nature of his character, playing him as profane and sleazy as they come.
Robert Hirschi delivers as good a performance as I’ve ever seen him do. Hirschi is a marvelous singer, and here he creates a character that seems almost musical in his confusion, uncertainty and fear. He’s on The Board but is frightened by all that is being asked of him, both by Krapf – who wants him to steal the leads – and by what his life demands on a daily basis as a big time salesman.
The office manager is played by Mark Neufang. His character wields what little power he has like a guillotine, as ready to chop off a head as he is to take a bribe. Neufang’s performance is full of bitter vile, and nobody in the office either likes or trusts him.
Dale Gutzman, the smart and fearless impresario of Off The Wall, loves plays that take an audience to the edge of some hinterland where questions and answers fly like a flock of pigeons after the sound of thunder.
He’s done it once again with "Glengarry Glen Ross."
"Glengarry Glen Ross" runs through Feb. 16. Information can be obtained at offthewalltheatre.com.
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