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Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Glengarry Glen Ross
Desert Stages Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's recent reviews of John Pizzarelli & Jessica Molaskey, Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill and Quilters


J. Kevin Tallent, Walt Pedano, and Jeff Carpenter
Photo by Heather and Dana Butcher / Desert Stages Theatre
David Mamet's Pulitzer Prize winning play Glengarry Glen Ross focuses on a series of unpleasant yet complex and intriguing characters. Like Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, it details the highs and (mostly) lows of the ruthless world of high-pressure sales and cold calls—here, following a group of slimy real estate salesman. With a crackerjack cast who create realistic characters, and clearly polished direction, Desert Stages Theatre's stark production is a winner as it focused solidly on Mamet's characters and explosive dialogue.

The four East Coast salesman couldn't be any different from each other. Smooth-talking Ricky Roma is at the top of the sales leader board while Shelley Levene, who has experiencing a sales slump and is extremely agitated, isn't even on the chart. Hot-headed Moss and meek and nervous Aaronow don't like the way the office is run and Moss comes up with a plan to get back at the owners of the firm. All four are after the hot leads in order to sell real estate in Glengarry Highlands, Florida, ensuring their clients that this is a lucrative land deal. But we are led to believe that it is overvalued property, and the salesmen will lie and deceive their clients to convince them to believe otherwise just to get a signed contract, close the deal, and make their commission.

The 90-minute play takes place in two locations over two successive days in the time period of the original production, around 1983. Act one is three short scenes set in a Chinese restaurant near the office. In these scenes, Mamet quickly and assuredly creates realistic characters and his distinctive writing gives each actor plenty of moments to shine. Act two is set the next day in the sales office after an incident that requires a police detective to question the salesmen. The play shows how the cutthroat world of high-pressure sales creates chaos and desperate people who will quickly turn on each other when their livelihood is on the line.

Director Virginia Olivieri has found a cast of actors who are more than capable of rising to the occasion required to bring Mamet's characters vibrantly to life. J. Kevin Tallent is superb as Shelly Levene, the older member of the sales force. His ability to show a wide range of emotions, from agitation to desperation as well as sheer glee, are exceptional. Walt Pedano is just as good as the slick, persuasive and persistent Richard Roma. While Roma never lets those in the office forget that he's on the top of the board, there is a poignant scene between Levene and Roma in which Roma tells the older salesman that he was the one who taught him what he knows. This is a nice counterpoint to the other explosive scenes with these two characters, and Pedano and Tallent are excellent in showing the warmth of the two men in this one brief moment.

The rest of the school of sharks include Jeff Carpenter as Dave Moss, Al Benneian as George Aaronow, and Rick Davis as the cocky office manager John Williamson. Carpenter is quite good as the hot-headed and manipulative Moss, delivering some robust profanity-laden tirades, while Benneian is appropriately meek and nervous as Aaronow. As Williamson, who holds the power of assigning sales leads, Davis has the right authoritative tone and, like everyone else in the cast, delivers superb reactionary expressions to the constant berating he receives from the salesmen. In smaller parts, Charles Sowder brings the right level of quietness combined with a complete lack of control for the powerless James Lignk, whom Roma tries to swindle into a deal, and Eric Banks is imposing and fierce as Detective Baylen.

Creative elements are simple yet effective, with Mickey Courtney's suit designs period throwbacks to the '80s and the set, by Olivieri, Matt Stetler, and Rick Sandifer, serviceable in quickly establishing the restaurant and office locales. Olivieri's direction draws rich performances from her cast while also making sure the style of Mamet's writing rings true. The staccato delivery that Mamet's dialogue requires and the repetitive nature of many of the lines may come across as unnatural or farfetched to some. But this highly skilled ensemble, under Olivieri's astute direction, create fireworks from Mamet's succinct words which they deliver in a sure-footed natural cadence that makes this production crackle.

Glengarry Glen Ross involves extremely nasty and unlikable characters. The short, profanity-filled script and fairly minimal plot may leave some befuddled as to the ongoing success of Mamet's work. While the play might be a hard sell to those looking for a show in which the characters actually grow by learning from their mistakes, are somewhat sympathetic, or at least have some humanity, it is Mamet's sharp dialogue and intriguing characters that have made this play one that will never go out of style. Desert Stages Theatre's production has a fantastic cast and smart direction, and the end result is a loving tribute to the style and substance of Mamet's masterful words.

Glengarry Glen Ross at Desert Stages Theatre in Scottsdale through May 15th, 2016. For information and tickets, call 480 483-1664 or visit desertstages.org.

Written by David Mamet
Directed by Virginia Olivieri
Set Design by Virginia Olivieri , Matt Stetler and Rick Sandifer
Costume Design by Rhea and Mickey Courtney
Lighting and Sound Designer: Matt Stetler

Cast:
Richard Roma: Walt Pedano
Shelly Levene: J. Kevin Tallent
Dave Moss: Jeff Carpenter
John Williamson: Rick Davis
George Aaronow: Al Benneian
James Lignk: Charles Sowder
Det. Baylen: Eric Banks


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