Milwaukee theatergoers have the rare opportunity to see two plays by one of America’s foremost living playwrights in February, including one local premiere. On Jan. 30, Next Act Theatre presents the Milwaukee premiere of David Mamet’s Race ((click here to read preview).
On the other end of the Mamet spectrum, Dale Gutzman’s Off the Wall Theatre takes on Mamet’s best-known work — Glengarry Glen Ross, which opens on Feb. 6. The play, which chronicles two desperate days in the life of four Chicago real estate salesmen, scored a 1984 Pulitzer Prize and New York Drama Critic’s Circle Award.
Glengarry Glen Ross is a more familiar work, largely due to the 1992 film version starring Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino and Alec Baldwin. As a play, however, it embodies the essence of Mamet’s style, according to Jeremy C. Welter, who is directing Off the Wall’s production.
“It is the benchmark to which all of Mamet’s other works will forever be judged,” Welter says. “There are very few shows that will get mentioned in the same breath as Death of a Salesman. This one does and should.”
Based in part on the author’s own experience working in a real estate office in his native Chicago in the 1960s, Glengarry embraces the familiar Mamet themes of honor, larceny and the void that exists between them. The play crackles with what critics call “Mamet-speak” — cynical, street-smart and overlapping dialogue delivered in machine-gun bursts.
“Mamet lays everything out for you. Every stutter, pause and what-have-you is written in,” Welter says. “He barely writes stage direction, and at times you only realize an actor has left the scene when they once again re-enter. But he lets you know when you can breathe.”
Glengarry wasn’t Welter’s first choice of Mamet plays. He had originally wanted to direct Sexual Perversity in Chicago, a 1974 Mamet work, but his plans derailed when part his preferred cast left town. However, he doesn’t regret the substitution.
“As an actor myself I am drawn to characters with moral ambiguity and a sense of desperation,” Welter says. “Glengarry is an epic examination of the frailty of the human spirit.”
The theme is a familiar one to Mamet fans, but it’s the language that ties the author’s works together. Mamet’s dialogue is notable as much for what it holds back as it is for its unrestrained rhetorical outbursts, says Welter. The use of speed and profanity, designed to cover characters’ insecurities or control their fates, is vital for survival in Mamet’s world.
“Those who talk well succeed. Those who cannot speak well are doomed to fail,” Welter says. “You need the speed because the more you think in this show, the more it will kill you.”
Off the Wall Theatre’s production of David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Glengarry Glen Ross runs Feb. 6–16. For more information, call 414-327-3552 or visit www.offthewalltheatre.com.