Live Arts is drama location, location, location
Posted: 09/25/2009 12:12 AM
By Clare Aukofer

Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.
Thoreau said it, but David Mamet mined it in his 1982 play “Glengarry Glen Ross.”
Here he has salesmen clawing to make a living from questionable real estate — seemingly no winners, just losers, desperate men all, whose manhood depends more on what they do than who they are — because what they do is who they are.
It’s a familiar conundrum, possibly echoing these days for some people who’ve lost not just jobs but identities. But Mamet isn’t exploring solutions, just ripping off the facade.
Live Arts’ production of this, which opened last Friday in the UpStage, is intimate and powerful, though, like most of Mamet’s work, most definitely not for audiences looking for airy entertainment or uncomfortable with profanity.
But the language is important here. In the play, which won a Pulitzer, Mamet simply shows the men for who they are in their small questionable, desperate, deliberately masculine world.
These men are as much Miller’s Willy Loman as they are Everyman, proving themselves not just to others, but to themselves. The language they use is part of their proof and identities.
This is a difficult play. The dialog calls for partial phrases, stops and starts, long pauses — ironic inarticulation in men whose lives depend on being articulate. Yet because the playwright provides no backstory, actors and audiences must determine who these men are in their present moment.
Wednesday’s performance began haltingly, with some of the men appearing to have trouble making the character fit the language. This was especially true of Jim Johnston, playing a has-been clutching at straws, though by the second act he’d regained his acting strength.
Michael Volpendesta has one of the best scenes in the play as Roma, a top salesman and smooth talker who may articulate much of Mamet’s premise as he seduces a sale to a stranger.
All of the men in this show, including Chris Patrick, Harold Langsam, Michael Volpendesta and Scott Dunn, deserve kudos.
Kevin O’Donnell gives a superb performance as Dave, a man’s man with big ideas. The difficult dialog seems as natural to him as mothers milk, and he is believable every moment.
Bill LeSueur also shines as the only customer among these smooth-talking salesmen — a milquetoast conned by Roma’s charm and, in the end, as desperate as the salesmen in his own way. His job is difficult, since he conveys his character with very little language.
Director Boomie Pedersen generally has done a good job with this, though she may have tried too hard to keep the play moving.
Like Pinter’s plays, Mamet’s depend as much on what is not said than on what is, and there seem to be pauses missing here, though perhaps that was more a result of three nights without performances than on the direction as a whole.
Still, the audience needs time to process the dialog. Because the audience is fairly quickly pulled in, adding 10 minutes to the not quite two-hour run time wouldn’t have hurt.
But Pedersen seems to have gotten the best out of all of her talented actors without sacrificing the power of them as an ensemble.
J. Justin Taylor has done an exceptional job of sound design here. The sound is never intrusive, but, along with Larry Hugo’s lights, quietly punctuates and adds value to Debra P. Holmes’ set, which cleverly makes full use of the UpStage’s small performance space.
Those who’ve seen the film of this play should be aware that they are not the same. Film and theater are different media, so let the film go.
Though this show is not perfect, it’s very well done, though definitely not for everyone.