Last night, Clara and I attended the current production of David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross at the Northfield Arts Guild Theater on Third Street. The theater, which until 1960 was St. Peter's Lutheran Church, has probably never experienced such a range and quantity of profanity. Mamet's play is tough and unflinching, and the language is fired off at a machine-gun pace, and it's a tribute to the cast and crew that they pulled it off with such aplomb. The NAG Theater has been growing more adventurous of late, thanks in part, I suspect, to the influence of Brendon Etter, who doesn't seem averse to taking risks. In recent years, the NAG has taken on Arthur Miller's The Price, Kander and Ebb's Cabaret, Ibsen's The Enemy of the People, and Seamus Heaney's The Burial at Thebes (a version of Sophocles' Antigone). In January, the NAG will stage Brendon's own series of short plays, provocatively titled Sex with Seven Women. Judging from the full house last night, the "adventurous theater fans" of Northfield are responding enthusiastically.
Glengarry Glen Ross, says Minneapolis playwright Jeffrey Hatcher, "is a taut, savage, vibrant, visceral, very funny, very frightening and very moving play about salesmen, money, and what it means to be a man in a brutal business world." It's a play, he says, in which words are always actions. The men are always talking: selling, conning, cutting and thrusting with their words. Mamet's salesmen live or die by their skill with words, their ability to sell a story. In my favorite scene, ace salesman Ricky Roma (charismatically acted by Jeff Ostberg) begins a sales pitch with a long philosophical monologue, delivered to an unsuspecting young man in the next booth at a Chinese restaurant. I found myself trying to understand Roma's philosophy while simultaneously being lulled by the odd poetry of his words. I realized that Roma's philosophy isn't much of a philosophy at all. He uses a lot of words to say almost nothing. Life is what happens to you. That's about what it boils down to. In other words, Roma doesn't have much to sell—an empty philosophy, a worthless piece of land—but he sells it brilliantly. What matters is not the product, but the pitch.
The strong cast is anchored by veteran Charlie Black as Shelley Levene, a salesman whose career is on the skids. It was an excellent evening at the theater. The play is short, but it packs a punch.
There is one more evening performance of Glengarry Glen Ross at the NAG Theater, tonight (October 13) at 7:30. The final performance is tomorrow afternoon (Sunday, October 14) at 2:00.
My poem " Phrasebook " has been published online in Ergon: Greek/American Arts and Letters .
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