Winner of the 1984 Pulitzer Prize for drama, Glengarry Glen Ross is David Mamet’s sizzling and gritty, claustrophobic play about a quartet of self-loathing real estate salesmen in Chicago during the mid-1980s. The 1992 film featured an all-star cast and was critically acclaimed. While there is much to be said about the art of live theatre, it would be wise to keep any comparisons to the film out of mind.
The title (and for that matter the plot) of the play is derived from the two real estate properties mentioned: Glengarry Highlands, a real estate development currently being sold, and Glen Ross Farms, a previous crème del le crème real estate development. A sales contest pits the salesmen against each other. Driven to desperation, they resort to manipulation, bribery and even burglary and theft to keep their jobs. The dog-eat-dog action that ensues is intense, laden with F-bombs, and brings with it all the intensity of life in a pressure cooker.
Mamet came to the public’s attention with plays including, American Buffalo, Speed the Plow, Oleanna, and Cryptogram.Considered a classic of 20th century theater, Glengarry Glen Ross shows Mr. Mamet at the top of his game – a key reason this play has become a regional theater staple.
As rendered by Shelton Theater, the scenic aspects of the show were solid. A Chinese restaurant, the focus of the first few scenes of the production, boasted beautiful red upholstery and was accented with maple-stained wood trim. With clean lines, the restaurant set was complemented by a simple black lacquer table and white curtains. The real estate office’s white walls included a well-painted marble effect that transported the audience right into the twisted business. Both sets leveraged the Shelton Theater’s size and geometry to good effect.
Shelton’s prop designer invoked realism with everything in its proper place and a well thought-out design. Costumes were realistic, pressed/ironed as appropriate and well presented. Costuming style/design elements were well considered and selected, showing us the best of dress for the mid-1980s. Actor traffic on and off the sets worked well.
To the credit of Stage Manager, the action behind the scenes was smooth. Lighting and sound crews were on their mark and associated cues were tight. One note: sound effects and music underscoring the key set change were a bit overdone. The lighting plot was serviceable.
From a directing perspective, Mamet challenges directors of every experience level. Director Sasha Litovchenko’s casting was solid and the seasoned actors did a good job with the material. Mr. Shelton’s work in particular was outstanding. Philip Estrin avoids clichés and nails the role of down-but-not-quite-out Shelley Levene. Matt Crawford as Moss, looks straight out of Central Casting as the schemer who launches the idea of the salesmen robbing their own office.
Overall, the Shelton Theater’s production of Mamet is a solid presentation of a great American classic. For the small audience on Friday night, Shelton largely delivered the goods. If you like drama, go see this solid take on an American classic.
Glengarry Glen Ross by David Mamet plays through August 29th.
Tickets are $25-$50 (with discounts available) and are available online athttp://www.sheltontheater.org or by calling 415.882.9100.
Show times and Place: Thursday – Saturday 8:00pm. Box Office and Bar open at 7:00pm
The Shelton Theater is located at 533 Sutter St. between Powell and Mason, in San Francisco.
Kris Neely is a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theater Critics Circle and a Theater Bay Area (TBA) Adjudicator.
Mr. Neely’s blogs on theater and performing arts are found on Aisle Seat Review at www.AisleSeatReview.com and also on For All Events at www.ForAllEvents.com.
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