Glengarry Glen Ross
Village Playhouse and Repertory Co.
Running through Oct. 29
$20, $18/seniors and students
730 Coleman Blvd., 856-1579
Throw a stone in Charleston and chances are you'll hit someone studying real estate. It sounds like the perfect job — flexible hours and high commissions, helping people find their dream homes. But not everyone ends up working for Prudential. There are some rapscallions out there who'd sell a piece of dirt to a dead dog if they thought they could make a buck off it, hard-talking white-collar weasels who've been trained to get their customers to sign on the line that is dotted, no matter what.
Playwright David Mamet worked with such rats, long ago in a different life. Since even Pulitzer Prize-winning writers turn what they know into dramatic material, Mamet used his experiences as fodder for one of his best-known plays, Glengarry Glen Ross.
Taut and terrifying in its misanthropy, this 90-minute all-male tale needs to be performed at a fast pace to make it effective. Most of the time the Village Rep players maintain that pace. Blink and you'll miss some of the finest put-downs ever spat on stage, delivered by Playhouse regulars Michael Easler and Rob Duren. You'll miss some of the subtler nervous tics of George Aaronow, perfectly played by Thomas Burke Heath. You might even miss a wonderfully tough, well-acted moment from Daniel Lesesne, hinting that there's more to the actor than the cop roles he's been typecast in recently.
The play only loses its rhythm a couple of times, most noticeably when Chris Sheets (as rube James Lingk) ambles into the Chicago real estate office where Act Two is set. Sheets can do gormless, henpecked, and vulnerable, but his interaction with sales shark Ricky Roma isn't quite as agonizing as it should be.
In the brass-balled role of Roma, Rob Duren dominates the stage in the same way that his character dominates the sales contest the agents are so desperate to win. He's on top and he knows it, as smooth as his silk shirt and tie. He flashes his pearly white teeth and cons the audience into liking him, only to reinforce what a scoundrel he is at the end; he's out to get half of a colleague's earnings, and he mercilessly chews out office manager John Williamson. As the lambasted "company man," Williamson, Robbie Thomas gives a highly theatrical performance that is occasionally at odds with his fellow actors' naturalism; at one point he looks straight at the audience and looks like he's going to shrug and wink to boot. In other moments he's the ideal foil for Duren's glitz.
While Thomas' acting sporadically jars and Duren's is big and brash but just right for the Playhouse proscenium, it's Nat Jones who really stands out in this production. While he doesn't capture all the nuances of Shelly "The Machine" Levene, he puts on a mesmerizing show, whether he's sitting at a table whining or sitting at a desk crowing. Levene is Mamet's complex crowning glory in this play, an agent who's been working hard for decades and has now hit a slump. The real pleasure and delicious horror of watching Glengarry is in witnessing the dismantling of The Machine, piece by petty piece.
Director and set designer Keely Enright has captured an '80s vibe without laying it on too thick, using music, red and blue lighting, and the kind of beige-brown décor that people actually thought was a good idea 20 years ago. Julie Ziff, who always creates effective costumes on a meager budget, follows Enright's lead and maintains the period feel but leaves the pastel jackets and neon socks at home. It's also great to see a sturdy set in a Charleston theatre where actors can slam doors without making the walls wobble.
If the ending of Glengarry seems abrupt and leaves you wanting more, you can blame — or thank — the playwright. But for an energetic hour and a half, the Playhouse proves that it can handle anything — comedy, farce, powerful drama — and satisfy its audience in a production that's required viewing for anyone considering real estate school. Or a career in acting, for that matter.