Al Pacino may be pulling them in for David Mamet’s 1984 Pulitzer Prize-winning ode to American con artistry, “Glengarry Glen Ross,” but the guy who’s blowing them away is Bobby Cannavale, a live wire in the role played by Pacino in the 1992 film version. Show’s hefty $377 tab for prime ducats and the long-delayed opening provided much grist for the gossip mill. But despite production flaws, in this post-Recession era of mortgage foreclosures and crooked real estate deals, it’s a treat to revisit the best American play ever written about merciless men and their predatory business practices.
The play’s two pivotal characters are Shelly Levene (Pacino), the washed-up and desperate agent who was at one time the sparkplug in his Chicago real-estate firm, and Richard Roma (Cannavale), the current cock of the walk, trained by Shelly and still loyal to his old mentor.
The outfit they work for sells worthless shares in Florida real-estate properties to unwary marks. (Eugene Lee’s shabby 1980s office set conveys the soulless nature of the place.) The business is sleazy enough, but the sadistic owners have turned it into a blood sport by dangling cash bonuses and Cadillac cars at their ruthlessly competitive salesmen.
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The charismatic Ricky has made it to the top of the board (winning himself the most promising leads on the suckers list) by lying, cheating, bullying, and shrewdly reading the minds of the clients he dazzles with his magnetic personality. Watching his seduction of one of these innocent rubes (played by Jeremy Shamos with the pathos of a little lamb being prepared for chops) is to observe a master psychologist at work.
Cannavale is dream casting for Ricky. Hair all slicked back and strutting around in the flash suits and loud shirts designed by Jess Goldstein, he blows through Mamet’s brilliantly filthy language like a gale force wind. It’s a big performance from a powerhouse performer, and when he turns in a rage on John Williamson, the beleaguered office manager played with amazing control by David Harbour, it’s also a scary one.
Pacino is a more restless performer, drawing on his nervous energy to prowl the stage as Shelly, as if he were leading the hard-luck salesman in panicky flight from the frantic thoughts buzzing in his brain. Given the constant anxiety Pacino projects, it’s electrifying when he stops spinning and actually sits down, allowing Shelly a quiet moment to absorb a devastating piece of bad news. Collapsing into the folds of his shiny black suit, thesp turns his haggard face to the audience and gives us a look that makes us believe in the existence of hell.
It’s an entirely valid interpretation of the character, but it doesn’t much serve the tight ensemble format of the play as Mamet designed it, and it complicates helmer Daniel Sullivan’s uneven efforts to impose a consistent acting style on his production.
Individually, not one of the well-picked performers can be faulted. John C. McGinley is wonderfully vile as Dave Moss, the resentful salesman who gets apoplectic when he thinks of how far behind he’s fallen in the race for sales, and Richard Schiff is pathetic, in an absurdly funny way, as the downtrodden victim of Moss’s scheme to stage a robbery and steal those precious leads.
But even these high-powered salesmen fail to make this sale.