This compelling production of David Mamet's brilliantly written play "Glengarry Glen Ross" gives Buffalonians the chance to celebrate our thriving theater scene. Ujima is a committed company, presenting a serious play with a thorough and sincere treatment. We should embrace it.
The play, a Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winner, is a spare and chilling portrait of a group of real estate salesmen; their literal struggle for survival.
Mamet's trademark strong, rhythmic language and repetition of themes and phrases work their magic on a viewer's brain. And his characters' seemingly spontaneous verbal patterns are like a psychological study, subtly revealing subconscious thoughts.
The first act, in three scenes, is set in a restaurant. In the first scene, down-and-out salesman Shelly "The Machine" Levene (Peter Palmisano) lunches with manager John Williamson (Tom MacVittie). Williamson, the supercilious younger man, eats, while Levene drinks and rides the ebb and flow of his emotions. Like the rest of the cast, Palmisano effectively portrays his character's state; you can practically smell the desperation.
In the second scene, fellow salesmen Dave Moss (Dan Walker) and George Aaronow (Todd Benzin) have dinner. Lorna Hill's meticulous direction has the two actors leaning toward and away from each other in almost a dance. As George, Benzin hunches and crumples as his physically larger co-worker threateningly pushes forth his insane plan to burglarize their own office.
And in the third, current top-dog salesman Richard Roma (Philip Knoerzer) has a solo after-work drink and spots potential customer James Lingk (Ray Boucher). Woe unto the lamb who happens into this lion's den. Knoerzer's Roma is a portrait in self-involvement, masked as a "regular guy." Delivering a philosophical monologue ripe with false empathy and typical Mametian cursing, he moves in on Lingk for the kill.
Constant references to the never-seen owners of the business, "Mitch" and "Murray," cast a veil of fear over the men. The unseen characters symbolize the irrefutably demanding powers that supposedly rule our lives. And the dehumanizing terms that represent the men's dreams and desires, like "closing leads" (selling a house to a person) and "the board" (where each man's sales standings are displayed) actually add to the drama.
The second act, set in the office, does not disappoint in bringing together and resolving, one way or another, everything that was established in the first.
Opening on the place in a shambles, Detective Baylen (Dwight E. Simpson) is investigating a robbery. Tensions, as you can imagine, rise. There is no joy, no hope and no happiness present in this dark affair. Every venal, craven, wretched emotion and outcome are explored.
It is one view of American life, a sequel of sorts to Miller's "Death of a Salesman's" comment on the emptiness and shallowness of our lives. And Ujima's careful production, down to the between-the-scenes music and its appreciation of the humor to be found in its shadows, provide much thought-provoking entertainment.
"Glengarry Glen Ross"
Review: Three stars (out of four)
Through March 25 in Ujima TheaterLoft, 545 Elmwood Ave.