The crack production that opened last night at the Plays and Players Theater is a joint venture of the Philadelphia Theater Company and the Capital Rep of Albany, N.Y., where it began life.
Mamet's attention in Glengarry Glen Ross is on the real estate business and the men it sends into uneven battle with a trusting, gullible public. The salesmen working out of a branch office of a large real estate firm are desperate men engaged in a vicious competition with each other. They resort to double-dealing, bribery and even theft to make a living.
Their talent is for the con, the hustle, the good old American snake oil business. Faced with a promising prospect, the good ones become consummate actors, pretending wholehearted interest in the victim's well-being and dodging like cats when caught.
The incident around which the play is built is the burglary of the office, an inside job in which the thieves have taken the very currency of the trade - the hottest "leads" on prospective customers.
Mamet sets up the situation in the three scenes of the first act, all of which take place in a Chinese restaurant where the salesmen eat lunch. In the first, a fallen champion of a salesman tries to revive his fortunes by bribing the beady-eyed young office manager.
The second scene is a circuitous conversation in which the robbery plot is hatched while the participants assure each other that they are not really talking about what they are talking about. Nowhere has Mamet extracted more comic irony from the twisting of words into their opposite.
In the third scene, the top dog of the sales force expounds on situational ethics in a monologue of brilliant doubletalk.
In the second act, the play moves to the looted office and the on-the-spot investigation conducted by a nasty detective who has some difficulty getting people's attention. The identity of the guilty is withheld to the end but that is not of primary interest when none of the men has a claim to our sympathy. They are all bastards.
But they are entertaining bastards. Their behavior is disgusting but their dialogue transcends natural speech to become a kind of rough music, with its own rhythm and course. They speak in riffs, giving emotional color and expressive distinction to vulgar words and ordinary phrases.
This is American speech not as it is spoken but rather distilled for its essence. Mamet does not go deep but he is a great player of the word game.
In the production at hand, director Gordon Edelstein has orchestrated the cast of seven into a taut and finely tuned ensemble. Allen Swift as the old champ and Michael Fischetti as the new one are masters of the brutal thrust and the insulting parry.
Scenic designer Hugh Landwehr's abstract Chinese restaurant with its bright red furnishings is a little too reminiscent of the Broadway production. The real estate office is an aptly depressing place, without the least bit of grace.
GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS
Written by David Mamet; directed by Gordon Edelstein; settings by Hugh Landwehr; costumes by David Murin; lighting by Pat Collins. Presented by the Philadelphia Theater Company at the Plays and Players Theater. Ends April 23.
Shelly Levene - Allen Swift
John Williamson - Terry Rabine
Dave Moss - Christopher Wynkoop
George Aaronow - Michael Marcus
Richard Roma - Michael Fischetti
James Lingk - Toshio Sato
Baylen - Jeffrey D. Kent