Theatre Review: ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’ at Pinch ‘n’ Ouch

Omer Mughal and Al Stilo in Glengarry Glen Ross at Pinch ‘n’ Ouch. (Photos by Grant McGowen)

Pinch ‘n’ Ouch Theatre is getting a head start on the fall theatre season with an explosive production of David Mamet’s 1984 Pulitzer-winning “Glengarry Glen Ross,” currently running through Aug. 26. After that, a completely different cast will play Aug. 31-Sept. 23.

Director Grant McGowen must have much confidence in his talent pool because the current cast is top notch. Or maybe it’s because he himself will play a role in Cast II (I jest; we can all use a little levity these days. Besides, Mr. McGowen is also a fine actor).

“In the United States it’s our pleasure and joy to consider life as a commercial enterprise. That’s our national character.” So says playwright Mamet; in another interview he says that the role of the artist is to shake people up, to reexamine things, to learn that sometimes “everything we have thought is wrong.” In the words of that eminent social critic Elvis Presley, there’s a whole lot of shakin’ goin’ on in “Glengarry.”

In the play we are privy to two days in the lives of some shady Chicago real estate agents who will lie, cheat, steal, and betray one another in order to “close the deal,” by any means, at any cost. You may be exhilarated by the razor-sharp, X-rated, scathing language (for heaven’s sake, leave the kids at home). Or you may just assume that these guys have all read “The Art of the Deal” (that’s my only Trumpian reference—promise).

Andy Fleming and Alex Van.

By the way, the title comes from two real estate properties mentioned: Glengarry Highlands and Glen Ross Farms; I wondered this for years. There was a Broadway run in 1984 and a revival in 2005. There’s also an all-star film (1992).

But for real visceral impact, you need to be “in the room where it happens,” and this is just what Pinch ‘n’ Ouch provides us. Their intimate, in-your-face space is perfect for this play. Occasionally I forget how much I like the almost claustrophobic feel—you can’t escape—that small theatres provide us. “Glengarry” is a sucker punch to your psyche and your guts, and you know what? It feels great.

You can’t do this play successfully without a first rate cast, and we’ve got one here—probably the best ensemble that Pinch has ever assembled. Here they are: Al Stilo (he may be first among equals, but it’s a tight race), Marcus LaRon, Jayson Warner Smith, Omer Mughal, Alex Van, Andy Fleming, and Jennifer Schottstaedt. They all snap, crackle, and pop—mainly at one another.

And they listen to one another: They’d better, because director McGowen teaches actors the Meisner technique of acting, which is totally based on the art of listening and reacting. You see, anybody can learn lines; a parrot can. But that doesn’t make a parrot an actor. Okay, acting class is closed for now.

The characters include a fading has-been; a timid agent who’s too slow and meek; the up-and-comer shark who uses words like knives; the wife-fearing wimp; the cop. Mamet believes that the way people speak not only determines their fates, but influences the way they behave—not vice versa. He also says, “In America, our problem is we’re a consumer culture and there’s nothing we won’t do if…it’s going to make money, or it’s going to make us happy through consumerism.”

Marcus LaRon and Jayson Warner Smith.

Does this sound like a work suited for our times or what? It’s almost scarily topical. Mr. McGowen’s direction is tight, focused, and virtually flawless. He’s a huge Mamet fan, and it shows. I wish I could say more about each actor, for they are all spot on.

The characters are “in the life,” a phrase prostitutes used to use for themselves. “We enslave ourselves,” one of them says. Is there any way out of the tawdriness, the meretriciousness? Why yes—make another sale. Want theatre that pops—in your face? See “Glengarry Glen Ross.”

For tickets and information, visit pnotheatre.org.

4 Comments
  1. Mr. McGowen, in addition to directing and acting, also teaches classes in the Meisner technique; I didn’t say that these actors had studied with him, although any good director is in part a teacher. And Mr. McGowen would use Meisner principles in anything he directs. Thank you for reading.

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