With its latest production, Asolo Repertory Theatre sparks a debate on a topic important to most Americans: money. How much is enough, and to what lengths should we go in acquiring it? Glengarry Glen Ross, the 1984 Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning play written by one of the most highly acclaimed American writers of our generation, David Mamet, delves into the dark forces that drive capitalism and our pursuit of the American dream.
Glengarry Glen Ross is the second show in the 2013 repertory season, following on the heels of season opener You Can't Take It With You. Glengarry Glen Ross bows Friday, Jan. 11 at 8 p.m. and is preceded by two preview performances on Jan. 9 and 10, both at 8 p.m. Carl Forsman, Dean of the University of North Carolina School for the Arts, directs the show, which runs through Feb. 28. "This play won the Pulitzer for a good reason. It's a true modern classic," said Forsman. "I'm thrilled to be back in Sarasota directing Glengarry Glen Ross for Asolo Rep. You can feel the quality going up here with every production." Asolo Rep fans may remember Forsman for his well-received, gripping production of A Few Good Men during the 2006-2007 season.
Glengarry Glen Ross focuses on the inner workings of a cutthroat Chicago real estate office populated by unscrupulous salesmen that will go to just about any length to close a deal. Dave Moss (played by guest artist Jay Patterson, a New York stage, television, and film veteran) is the chief architect of office drama, a malcontent that instigates trouble and preys on his weaker-minded co-workers. Ricky Roma is the office hotshot flying high on a sales streak (played by guest artist Eric Hissom, a 1989 MFA graduate of the FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training and former member of the company). Current Asolo Rep company members portray the other lead characters. Douglas Jones is Shelly "The Machine" Levene, a desperate, aging salesman that is watching his life slip away as he barely clings to his job, and David Breitbarth is George Aaronow, the office patsy, a small fish who has zero chance of survival in these shark-infested waters.
The salesmen spend their days calling on leads-prospective buyers-in efforts to pressure them into signing contracts to buy unseen parcels of land. Though Mamet does not reveal the specific location of the subdivisions, the audience finds out the land is located in Florida (land scams were common in the state during the 1960s and 1970s, as unsuspecting buyers were lured by glitzy national advertising campaigns; only after they purchased the land did they find out their new homesteads were actually under several feet of water and swamp grass). The stakes are upped when the four salesmen are forced to participate in a cruel sales contest devised by their bosses: first prize is a new Cadillac, second is a set of steak knives, third prize is... well, there is no third prize. You're fired. To beat the competition and keep their paychecks, the men consider engaging in a range of unethical, immoral, and even criminal behavior, which culminates in an office robbery.
"Mamet himself describes the play as a gang comedy. People who only know the movie are going to be surprised at how much funnier the play is," added Forsman. "It's a whodunit wrapped inside a comedy wrapped around an economic parable."
"Glengarry Glen Ross is a play that embraces the theme of Americans engaging in commerce, an idea central to our character," said Michael Donald Edwards, Producing Artistic Director for Asolo Repertory Theatre. "It challenges the audience to consider their own personal values. To what extent do we agree or disagree with the actions of these salesmen? If we were in the same situation, what would we do? "
"Glengarry dramatizes the cost of competition and free markets in such a profoundly entertaining and provocative way," added Forsman. "I was an undergrad economics major, and I really savor looking at the world through the lens of competition, because competition is what made America great. Competition makes things better, it makes things cheaper, but there is a price to pay for it."
One-half hour prior to every performance, Asolo Repertory Theatre staff members will lead a discussion on the mezzanine about the strong language Mamet employs in the play, which has been come to be known as "Mametspeak" or "The American Style" in theatre. While shocking for some audience members, the profane yet realistic dialogue contained in the play is one of the reasons it won a Pulitzer Prize and is considered one of the most influential plays of the 20th century. The purpose of the discussion is to prepare the audience and help put the characters' noticeably foul vocabularies into proper perspective. Arts writer for The Guardian Lyn Gardner exempts Mamet from her condemnation of profane dialogue in television, theatre, and film, declaring in a 2008 article, "Mamet's cuss-words in plays like Glengarry Glen Ross are not randomly deployed but are patterned and timed with quasi-musical precision."