Full disclosure: I’ve never seen Glengarry Glen Ross before. Not even the movie. If you told me “Coffee’s for closers,” I would have just blinked and shut a door. But I finally ended my GGR drought on Wednesday night at Seattle Repertory Theatre, where a high-energy production of David Mamet’s play is on through February 28. Too bad that after two hours and many F-bombs, I still don’t know what the fuss is about.
I know that GGR needs one thing to really fly: a standout cast that can make Mamet’s famous staccato dialogue sound like poetry, and gets us to believe that these cutthroat, swindling real-estate salesman are at turns hideous and piteous—a hard sell in the current age of sub-prime mortgage scandals and billion-dollar Ponzi schemes. Thankfully, SRT delivers with a fine crew dominated by veteran Seattle actors. John Aylward (TV’s ER ) gives Willy Loman-like layers to down-on-his-luck broker Shelly Levene, while R. Hamilton Wright is so convincing as alpha male Ricky Roma, you’re worried he’ll con you out of your car keys when the night’s over. Charles Leggett nearly steals the show as the no-good Dave Moss, who makes his final exit from the office so ferociously— with doors slamming, water coolers flying, and a torrent of F-yous and c-bombs raining down —even the sturdy two-story set shudders. (Tony-winning scenic designer Eugene Lee, who also did the sets for Wicked and last season’s The Seafarer at SRT, deserves as much applause as the cast.)
But I still have a bone to pick, and I think it’s with Mr. Mamet. I listened closely to the dialogue as a study in banter, for the cadence in vulgarity. I just didn’t hear it. See, I’m a child of a new era of scriptwriting: when all banter seems witty (thank you Tina Fey); when characters on television shows speak in iambic pentameter, or whatever they were doing on Dawson’s Creek, Gilmore Girls, and The O.C.; when vulgarity isn’t shocking—it’s the language of bromances and bro-scapades,The Hangover and Kevin Smith movies. And I can’t help feeling what was once fresh and imaginative about Glengarry Glen Ross now seems stale. Words alone can no longer carry a thin plot, where only one character shows any real growth. Mamet’s bombastic men are too familiar nowadays, their verbal swordplay a bit dull. They’re not “the members of a dying breed.” They’re the norm. And I’ve seen enough.