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December 11, 2012

TT: Premium leads

The Wall Street Journal has given me an extra column today in which to report on the Broadway revival of Glengarry Glen Ross, which is a stunner. Here's an excerpt.

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David Mamet has two shows running on Broadway this week. One of them, "The Anarchist," is a freshly minted flop that will close on Sunday. The other, "Glengarry Glen Ross," is a hugely successful revival of one of Mr. Mamet's most popular plays. The situation recalls his own zero-sum philosophy: "Economic life in America is a lottery. Everyone's got an equal chance, but only one guy is going to get to the top....So one can only succeed at the cost of the failure of another." The catch is that Mr. Mamet is now playing the parts of both guys. And unlike "The Anarchist," a wan, stillborn debate about terrorism that stubbornly insists on its meaning in every line, "Glengarry Glen Ross" is one of the finest American plays of the 20th century, a modern classic which--like all the best art--makes its points without seeming to make them.

2glengarry-glen-ross-4_3_r560.jpgYou might well wonder whether a play that's already been mounted twice on Broadway, in 1984 and 2005, is due for another revival. But once you've seen this version, performed with stupendous dynamism by a cast led by Al Pacino and Bobby Cannavale, you'll wonder why you wondered....

If you know "Glengarry," you'll most likely have guessed that Messrs. Cannavale and Pacino are playing Ricky Roma and Shelly "The Machine" Levene, a pair of ravenously hungry Chicago real-estate salesmen who are respectively on the way up and on the way down. "A man's his job," Ricky assures us with adamantine certainty. In the all-male world of "Glengarry Glen Ross," a man's job is also the taproot of his masculinity, and if he can't close the deal, he's no man at all. Ricky accepts that premise as confidently as he rejects the "middle-class morality" that he dismisses with annihilating contempt: "I do those things which seem correct to me today....Bad people go to hell? I don't think so. If you think that, act that way. A hell exists on earth? Yes. I won't live in it." Except that he does....

Mr. Pacino, who was cast as Ricky in the 1992 film version of "Glengarry," has switched to Shelly this time around, and that's the key to his performance: He plays Shelly as if he were Ricky gone to seed, pretending to a success that is no longer his. No sooner are his desperate lies brought to light than he dies inside, seeming to shrink by a foot before your horrified eyes. As for Mr. Cannavale, he couldn't be more different from Liev Schreiber, who played Ricky on Broadway in 2005. While Mr. Schreiber was chilly and sleek, Mr. Cannavale brings a hypnotically vulgar charm to the part. Few stage actors are gifted enough to go head to head with Mr. Pacino and remain standing, but Mr. Cannavale has a double dose of what it takes. To see them spitting lines at one another like snakes on a bed of hot coals is the stuff that sold-out houses are made of....

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Read the whole thing here.

An excerpt from the 1992 film version of Glengarry Glen Ross, with Al Pacino as Ricky Roma:

Posted December 11, 2012 12:00 AM

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