By David Templeton
Death of a Fuckin' Salesman. That's what many actors, directors and theater fans have affectionately called David Mamet's Pulitzer-winning Glengarry Glen Ross since the play first exploded onto the stage in 1983. As famous for its outrageously coarse language as it is for its stylized, lean-and-mean plot structure, the show, which just opened a six-weekend run at the Ross Valley Players, is much more than a string of f-bombs and testosterone-poisoned put-downs; it's a raw, unsentimental dissection of the desperation that propels and thwarts so many middle-class working stiffs.
Beginning in a dingy Chinese restaurant where salesmen gather to one-up each other and trawl for new clients, then moving to the interior of a simple store-front real estate office, the play follows two days in the lives of four salesmen/con artists (Eric Burke, Richard Conti, Tim Earls and Norman A. Hall) who work for a seedy land firm. The RVP production, a bold move for the venerable 79-year-old theater company, is directed by James Dunn with elegance, clarity and attention to detail, but the production is knocked down a notch by a too-leisurely pace and an uneven cast, with performances that range from flat-out excellent to merely adequate.
As the office's reigning alpha dog, salesman Richard Roma, Burke (last seen at RVP in last year's superb Cocktail Hour) delivers a performance of ferocious calm, embodying Roma's sharkish charm with a gleeful malevolence that borders on the sociopathic. Conti, as the bullying David Moss—the second man on the office food chain, motivated more by anger against management than by avarice or ambition—is also excellent, making every line spring to life with colorful choices.
In perhaps the hardest role in the show, Norman A. Hall plays the aging Shelly Levene as a man whose self-esteem has been so battered he's lost control of everything that used to make him a good salesman. It's an intricate performance that grows and adds shades of character as the play progresses. As the fourth salesman, the friendly pushover George Aaronow, Tim Earles, who's mostly been seen in small parts with Sonoma County's Narrow Way Stage Company, has been given his biggest role to date, and gives his best performance in it, establishing a tone of clueless niceness that carries through to Mamet's sly surprise ending.
Stephen Dietz has some nice moments in the small role of a sad-sack client trying to back out of a contract, but as the office's mercurial manager, H. D. Southerland plays just one glowering note and Jason Souza, as a tough-guy cop investigating a break-in of the office, is unconvincing. Ultimately, this is an enjoyable Glengarry that falls short of excellence, but still demonstrates the riveting, haunting power of Mamet's best play.
Glengarry Glen Ross runs Thursday–Sunday through Feb. 22 at the Barn Theater within the Marin Art and Garden Center. Friday–Saturday at 8pm; Thursday at 7:30pm; Sunday at 2pm. $16–$20; Jan. 23 at 7pm, pay-what-you-will. 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross. 415.456.9555.
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