“Glengarry Glen Ross,” David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize winning masterpiece, is not an easy play. It’s language is crude, racist, and hits you like a freight train; it is not a safe choice, not by a long shot. The Ephrata Performing Arts Center has chosen to do it and a brilliant risk it is. It is also a fitting choice in this era of corporations, big business, and a landed elite who only seem to care about making more money. Glengarry Glen Ross is about smooth talking and shady dealing Chicago real estate agents. Money is the whole point of these character’s lives; nothing else maters but making the next sale.
. . .a pleasant surprise in an area where theatre is often far too safe. . .
When you enter the theatre you’re greeted by music which references the core of these men’s lives, money, and a simple table with a single light hanging above it. It is a setting anyone could recognize, right in center stage: a Chinese restaurant compete with a half eaten meals. Such a simple set allows for simple changes between scenes, but these changes mean everything to the play. Ephrata’s stage is a thrust; surrounded on three sides by the audience. So, just by pivoting the table they change the whole focus of the following scene. Director Michael Swanson uses the stage and this simple set masterfully. He and his actors are also able to work around this biggest problem of a thrust stage: an actor’s back is always, at some point, going to be to the audience. They are able to keep your attention focused where it needs to be no mater which way they are facing.
The first act is three scenes featuring conversations between three sets of characters. First we have Shelly Levene, a desperate old timer, played by Ken Seigh. Shelly squirms under the single lamp, almost like an interrogation, and Mr. Seigh captures that desperation perfectly. The one making him squirm though is John Williamson, the agency’s office manager, played by Tim Riggs. Mr. Riggs is able to maintain control of the scene even without many words and his back to at least my section of the audience. We then move on to Dave Moss, another old timer but with grander deals in mind, played by Herb Stump. Dave is making a pitch, and a well delivered pitch it is, to the easily flustered George Aaranow, played by John Kleimo. The lone light then becomes a spot light and remains that way for the following scene. Richard Roma, the smooth tongued hot shot of the agency played by Sean Young, starts making a deal with the unsuspecting James Lingk, played by Kevin Ditzler. Richard spins us a tale of riches and immorality, but be warned, he is so smooth tongued that you may begin believing his uncaring philosophy. Each scene puts a new character in focus and you begin to get a picture of the corrupted lives these people lead. Act two brings everyone together and adds a detective, Baylen played stoically by Noel Smith; creating a chaotic power struggle which shifts the play into something far more complex then the first act seems to be.
“Glengarry Glen Ross” is full of swearing, intense racism, and business jargon but none of that will matter because all the the actors use this language like it’s normal, and for these characters it is. You are not meant to like them; they are schemers and crooks who will sell you a half-smoked cigarette for the price of a new one. Ephrata Performing Arts Center does Mamet’s work justice and then some and is a pleasant surprise in an area where theatre is often far too safe and far from hard hitting. If you don’t mind swearing every other line, which is a signature of Mamet, then this play will both entertain and give you something to think about on the drive home.
Running Time: Approximately 2 Hours with a 15 minute intermission.
Advisory: Intense Language, Sexual Themes and Racism.
“Glengarry Glen Ross” will be playing at the Ephrata Performing Arts Center until September 17th, 2016. For more information and tickets, click here.