The Austin Chronicle

Arts Review

Reviewed by Elizabeth Cobbe, October 24, 2008, Arts

Glengarry Glen Ross

City Theatre

Through Oct. 26

In one respect, City Theatre and Barack Obama share the same kind of luck. The stock market dive and aftermath of the home mortgage scandal have made it the ideal time to run for president as an opposition candidate. It's also the perfect time to produce David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross.

The play is about four real estate salesmen who are fighting hand, tooth, and nail to be seller No. 1 in their office. Alliances and allegiances swap out depending on who's scored the latest big sale. When someone hits a dry spell, he's desperate; when he lands a sale, he's euphoric. None of the salesmen is especially happy with his life, living in hotels and off of Chinese buffets, but they are all hooked on the high. When the rare victory is scored, it's like watching an alpha-male gorilla run around thumping his chest and bellowing. Suddenly, all of yesterday's despair and fear is forgotten in the throes of that elusive closed sale.

These men also lack that little thing called ethics, the stuff that can make a play boring if everybody has it. Two of the salesmen have decided to break into the office to steal the leads and sell them to their bosses' competitor. There is bribery, lying, deception, threats, and prodigious cursing.

There's also something of a love song among men in this play. David Mamet would likely descend on me in fury from the heights of L.A. if I were to suggest something homoerotic in the lines, but when we see one of these salesmen speaking to a male customer, it's like a lover wooing his partner to come back to him, to trust him, to let him screw his brains out and then take off without leaving his number. Wives and daughters are mentioned merely as vague consciences, random variables who can throw off the equation at any time. Each of the men in this play has completely convinced himself that he would quickly rule the world and own fast cars and real estate and many bank accounts if only a few things (like, say, the law) would turn in his favor. The fact that they keep tangling their antlers in their attempts to screw one another over doesn't change their minds in the least.

All of which makes Glengarry a fascinating play to watch, given all the expensive executive retreats that insist on taking place these days in spite of things such as corporate bankruptcy. There has got to be a psychological reason why the executives, mortgage brokers, and unwise borrowers of America have gotten everyone into this mess, and Glengarry offers us at least one explanation. Whether you buy it or not, after watching the men of this play self-inflate and self-destruct, you may feel that you have a better handle on what on earth is happening to your retirement account or college savings and why.

This production, directed by Charles P. Stites and Andy Berkovsky, shows that City Theatre has hit a benchmark of sorts. In a town the size of Austin, it could be hard for a young company to find seven good male actors who all fit their parts. City's Glengarry is an example of great casting across the board and solid direction. This is a company that favors slow, steady growth over the pitfalls of headstrong ambition.

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