Glengarry Glen Ross at barebones productions | Program Notes
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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Glengarry Glen Ross at barebones productions

Posted By on Tue, Nov 24, 2009 at 1:40 PM

On one level, the six principal characters of David Mamet's modern classic are ciphers. They seldom discuss anything but their jobs selling fraudulent real estate. The only one who refers to a wife -- to any sort of domestic life -- is Lingk, the sucker for one of the salesmen's confidence games. Indeed, the only one on whom Mamet bestows any real past is the struggling veteran, Shelly Levene -- and Levene narrates that past entirely in terms of his sales conquests.

There is one exception, however, and it's an intriguing window into not only this fine barebones production, but also the depths Mamet subtly provides (or for which he perhaps simply leaves opportunities for actors to provide).

Again it involves Levene, who's played by Pittsburgh stage legend Bingo O'Malley, whom I profiled for CP a couple weeks ago: www.pittsburghcitypaper.ws/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A71500.

The exception is that three times, Levene mentions his daughter. (My article incorrectly says twice.) The mentions are all very brief; two of them, in fact, are nothing more than an abortive "my daughter ..."

In an interview before the show opened, O'Malley cited Levene's references to his daughter as one of Mamet's peepholes into character -- one reason O'Malley was interested enough to take the role twice. (The first time was back in the 1980s, for City Theatre.) O'Malley says that for him, Levene's mentions of his daughter prompts a curiosity about the man that yields a different interpretation each time.

Audiences will note that Levene is a con artist, and that he refers to his daughter only when he needs something. The first time is in the play's first scene, where he pleads for leads from the unyielding office manager.

So does Levene even have a daughter? I asked O'Malley, and he wouldn't say what he thinks. He was concerned that his answer would cost the show's audience too much intrigue.

But here's my interpretation, based on seeing O'Malley's powerful performance last Friday.

The first time Levene mentioned his daughter, I was sure it was a ruse. But the play's arc is Levene's -- from desperation to seeming triumph to final undoing -- and my impression changed accordingly. By the third mention, I was not only sure that there was a daughter ... but also that she'd died.

How so? This is nowhere in the script. But O'Malley's line reading suggested that while Levene still mentions the daughter as a ploy, he is in genuine grief over her death.

It's just a guess. I don't know what Mamet thinks. And I still don't know what O'Malley thinks -- though I do know that his wordless depiction of Levene's final dissolution is perhaps the most potent acting I've seen on a local stage this year.

This week is your last chance to see for yourself. Glengarry continues at the New Hazlett Theater tonight through Sun., Nov. 29, not counting Thanksgiving (www.barebonesproductions.com).

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