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Review

Magnificent Mamet's desperate men Add to ...

Glengarry Glen Ross

Written by David Mamet

Directed by Amy Morton

Starring Tracy Letts,

David Pasquesi and Rick Snyder

At the Premiere Dance Theatre

in Toronto

Rating: ***

As Chicago's famed Steppenwolf troupe makes its Canadian debut, artistic director Martha Lavey contributes a lovely program note about the hard-driving, expletive-filled language of David Mamet. The company is performing Glengarry Glen Ross, the U.S. playwright's masterful exposure of the American male, and Lavey writes: "The challenge Mamet issues to the actor anticipates the task he poses to his audience: can you hear, behind the vernacular speech, the deeper concerns of the play?"

You are going to have to take it on faith that this production, directed by company member Amy Morton, rises magnificently to that challenge. Certainly, there are lots of hints that this is a fast, tough and wholly successful interpretation of the script, but full ocular proof is missing because of a nasty bit of luck. Mike Nussbaum, the senior Steppenwolf member who was to play the central character of Shelly Levene and who had also appeared in the original Broadway production in 1984, has been called back to Chicago for a family emergency. Another company member, Rick Snyder, stepped heroically forward; Steppenwolf delayed the opening by one day, and Thursday the company finally made its debut -- with Snyder performing the role, script in hand.

Inevitably, some tension is missing from this tale of real estate desperados hawking swamp land in Florida. Snyder manages much of the pathos of Levene, a veteran salesman on a losing streak, but under the circumstances, has difficulty relaying the still-considerable verbal power of the old wolf. Luckily, the rest of the cast offer him strong support, from the all-guns-blazing roles -- David Pasquesi as the star salesman Richard Roma and Matt DeCaro as the malcontent braggard Dave Moss -- through to the subtler work of Alan Wilder as Moss's bemused fall guy, Tracy Letts as the office manager Williamson trying to hide his plodding personality behind a slick façade; and Peter Burns as an unsuspecting buyer.

Glengarry Glen Ross is a miracle of dramatic efficiency, heralded by choruses of the f-word. Its brief first act features three scenes in a Chinese restaurant. In the first, the increasingly desperate Levene rails against the bum leads he is getting from Williamson, whose job is to give out the best prospects to the top salesmen. In the second, Moss and his sidekick bemoan the unfairness of the current sales contest in which the top performer is promised a Cadillac and the bottom will lose his job. In the third, we see the smooth-talking Roma get to work on the monosyllabic prospect played by Burns with the stooped shoulders and stunned gaze that predict his approaching swindling.

The second act then takes us inside the real estate office -- with such blackly comic verisimilitude, courtesy of designer Derek McLane, that Thursday's audience broke into amused applause as the stage lights came up. Someone has broken into the office and stolen not only the cash, but also the files containing the names of those all-important leads. Behind the expletive-peppered bravado, stands a desperate band of men whose code is crumbling as honour among thieves gives way to dog-eat-dog. Paradoxically, the individual is the first victim of this individualism; but there should rightly be more tragic weight as Shelly Levene takes his fall.

Glengarry Glen Ross continues through tomorrow at the Premiere Dance Theatre at Toronto's Harbourfront Centre; 416-973-4000.

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