In the spitfire production of “Glengarry Glen Ross” at the Eagle Theatre in Hammonton, N.J., the characters don’t simply want to cut throats. They’d rather eviscerate one another, which calls for so much more quality time.
And why not? David Mamet’s now-classic dark comedy of jousting egos, good old American flim-flam and winning at any cost invites gut wrenches of the first order.
“Glengarry Glen Ross” opened on Broadway in 1984, and won the Pulitzer Prize for drama that same year. The last few productions I saw seemed dated – all the viciousness and evil cunning displayed by the questionable salesmen of value-inflated real estate seemed genuine, if extreme, but the real estate business has changed greatly since the ’80s. I’d wondered whether universal human weaknesses were enough to keep the play real.
The play is very real at the Eagle Theatre — down to the high-octane overlay of conversations by people speaking at the same time in spurts of verbal bile. Watching the interchanges, which lead to crime in the name of success, it struck me that Mamet could have written virtually the same play after the century turned and people were being eaten alive by their own greed and that of sub-prime mortgage pushers. What is it about real estate that can so instinctively bring out our baser qualities? (And here, allow me to refer you also to the current Broadway revival of “A Raisin in the Sun.”)
At Eagle – in the far reaches of the Philadelphia region and one of its up-and-coming theater companies – “Glengarry Glen Ross” is staged by Ted Wioncek III, a co-artistic director, and he runs the actors through the script as if he’s constantly clicking fingers at them. (That’s not always the case in what you could call more pensive productions.) The play needs energy, and Mamet’s masterly writing includes big bursts of nastiness amid the rest. Wioncek’s production throws a constant wind into its sails – a refreshing feel, at once exciting and breathless.
He has an A-list cast. Tom McCarthy, a stage veteran who began acting in Philly long before he had a real community of colleagues, heads up the cast as the washed-out salesman who just can’t end a cycle of failed sales; McCarthy has the ability to deliver the extreme dialogue Mamet provides as if we all speak it. Anthony Michael Irizarri is persuasive as the young salesman who shows everyone up and can’t manage an ounce of sincerity. Tim Rinehart is the amoral intimidator in this sales clan, and David Wills is the clueless bumbler who can sell, but not much. All are excellent at maintaining the furious pace of this “Glengarry,” and with the rest of the cast – John Jackowski, David Nikolas and Cory Laslocky – they never let the live-wire aspect overwhelm the story-telling.
Robert Kramer’s scenic design plays to the front of the stage in the first act, so that a wider set can unfold behind it in the second half. David Pierron’s percussive sound design mirrors the sting of the dialogue.
The Eagle Theatre, in a former movie house in Hammonton, half-way to Atlantic City, is just in its second full season of productions and has already turned professional – it has contracts with Actors’ Equity, the national union of stage performers and stage managers. (More than a thousand Equity card-holders now live in metropolitan Philadelphia.) The theater has a wine bar (you can take your drink to your seat), a full schedule and a bunch of ardent supporters. If you want proof that theater happens wherever it can, travel to the blueberry country of New Jersey where raw nerves are currently, eloquently, showing.
“Glengarry Glen Ross” runs through May 17 at Eagle Theatre, 208 Vine St., Hammonton, N.J. 609-704-5012 or www.theeagletheatre.com.