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Eric McCormack is Ricky Roma in the Vancouver Arts Club production of David Mamet' Glengarry Glen Ross.
Eric McCormack is Ricky Roma in the Vancouver Arts Club production of David Mamet' Glengarry Glen Ross.

Review

As Glengarry's alpha dog, McCormack really sells it Add to ...

Glengarry Glen Ross

  • Written by David Mamet
  • Directed by Michael Shamata
  • Starring Eric McCormack, Bart Anderson, John Pyper-Ferguson, Vincent Gale, Daren Herbert, Brian Markinson and Gerard Plunkett
  • At the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage in Vancouver

The television star Eric McCormack is best known for his lead role in the series Will & Grace, in which he played a well-scrubbed gay man so upright and fastidious that the writers were obliged to surround him with evil supporting characters (Jack and Karen) in order for the show to gain traction. When I spoke with McCormack earlier this year, he sounded eager to throw that squeaky persona off - to reinvent himself and sell his fans something new.

So hats off to the Emmy winner for setting himself up with one of the most heinous parts in the pantheon of American theatre - that of scumbag realtor Ricky Roma from David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross. (And he did set himself up with this role; McCormack told me that he and a pack of drinking pals essentially went to the Arts Club's chief, Bill Millerd, and said, "Hey, we wanna put on a play.")

McCormack's Ricky is a peerless alpha dog in his pack of realtors, so ruthless and cocky that you don't know whether to wish him dead or wish he'd be on your side. Nobody does angry-making better than David Mamet, and McCormack (who's actually more of a serpent than a dog on stage, with his devil's goatee and slippery, lolling postures) leaves you utterly forgetting that Will Truman jerk.

But Glengarry Glen Ross is no one-star evening (even if the conversation during opening-night's intermission was more concerned with McCormack's presence than with the drama at hand). In fact, Mamet enlists an ensemble of seven men. Five are cogs of varying sizes in a Chicago real-estate firm. One is a poor, guileless client (severely played by Bart Anderson). And one is a cop (Daren Herbert) called in when the office gets burgled.

Thievery is hardly the major concern though; Glengarry is about a more trenchant (male) frustration inherent in capitalism. The realtors are practically constipated in their pent-up anger at the system they're in (earning a pittance of what they bring in for the bosses), and that anger is expressed by the brutal beauty of their words. This is the sort of play that teaches you new ways of swearing (did any other play in the eighties boast more than 100 F-bombs?). There's such glee in it, too, and such bravado in the staccato pummelling of those weighty monosyllables. It's what the critic Brendan Gill once called "lilting arias out of the lower depths." Director Michael Shamata seems to have worked especially hard at orchestrating the Bach-like precision and counterpoint of Mamet's vicious, overlapping speech patterns. Mostly, the actors nail it.

The thoughtful reader will have noted that a play about deceitful American real-estate agents seems very of-the-moment, even if said play is actually set in the 1980s. There's a timelessness to Mamet's script; Shamata delivers something wholly relevant, and Kevin McAllister's sets (a plush restaurant and a fluorescent office) are effective yet depressing in that they place those boiling exchanges in the timeless constraints of those non-domestic spaces.

When all the cussing's done, Glengarry Glen Ross is still a comedy, an exhausting and nearly farcical look at the futile game that is capitalism. It bears noting that the realtors in question aren't getting the joke, though. They may be crude asses, but they're also pathetic. And in a way they earn our sympathy. Plunkett - the only actor on stage to outshine McCormack - delivers an extremely vulnerable Shelley Levene, a man switching between self-righteousness and terror with the changing winds of his petty fortunes.

When the office is robbed, the men turn on each other and devolve at a fantastic fever pitch that Shamata has conducted with close to musical precision.

Mamet is obsessed with those moments of betrayal (they show up in nearly all his plays and movies). I think he cares about betrayal so much because betrayed people are the most exposed. And that's what we get in this Glengarry: naked souls, sniping and famished and doing whatever it takes to cut a deal.

Glengarry Glen Ross runs to Aug. 22 ( www.artsclub.com).

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