Saturday, December 2, 2023

Theater Review: “Glengarry Glen Ross” at the Maltz

The Maltz Jupiter Theatre is certainly not hiding the fact that its current show, David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross,” is a provocative one. The first page of the playbill is a full-page warning, as blunt as a surgeon general’s caution on a pack of cigarettes: “This production contains strong profanity throughout.” The same caveat is plastered on signs in the lobby, and ticket-takers often vocalize it to patrons upon ingress. It’s safe to say that if you were one of the sadly sizable number of attendees who abandoned this filthy show at intermission this past weekend, it was on you.

Of course, for regular theatergoers, this warning is superfluous. The rapid-fire barrage of four-letter words in Mamet’s plays, and “Glengarry” in particular, is acknowledged as a signature element of Mametspeak. When done right, as the Maltz has accomplished with its marvelous production, the vulgarities spill from the characters’ tongues as naturally as lyrics from the American songbook. For these real-estate salesmen who will stop at nothing to peddle toxic properties to unwitting clients, the “f—ks” and “s—ts” and “c—ksuckers” are like verbal security blankets, the fallback diction when other words fail. Profanity is the aphasia of the overburdened male ego, the symbol of its virility.

This sense of the absolute necessity of every naughty word that escapes their mouths in spurts of logorrhea comes across beautifully and, yes, musically, under the J. Barry Lewis’ direction. To curse and defame this eloquently is not as easy as it sounds. I’ve read some Mamet plays, with their interruptions, their unfinished thoughts, their wandering sentences, their brain farts, and their ellipses, dashes and italicizations. It’s all so precise and rigorous that mastering Mametspeak is not unlike tackling Shakespeare, and Lewis’ ensemble is pretty damn flawless across the boards.

These include a masterly Rob Donahoe as Shelly Levene, a dinosaur at his Chicago real estate firm who refuses to go gently into that good night. Donahoe is the tragic picture of a wheezing jalopy on its last wheel—fragile, desperate, and virtually broken in his attempts to remain relevant and financially secure. The spontaneity of this performance—its absolute verisimilitude and lack of calculation—is enough to wrest the show’s lead role from Ricky Roma, its usual lead character.

Which isn’t to say that Peter Allas, who brings nearly 30 years’ experience on stages and screens big and small, is a slouch as Roma. He’s nearly as extraordinary, portraying Roma as an unctuous sociopath of the most magnetic order, the sort that will mesmerize you with a gaze and a smile while knifing you in the back. John Leonard Thompson, who excelled in Mamet’s “American Buffalo” at Palm Beach Dramaworks in 2010, meets expectations here as Dave Moss, the cynical salesman who secretly organizes an office burglary. With staccato speech and a nonchalant pressure under fire, Thompson sells us on his scheming character’s Machiavellian malevolence, and in his Act Two ouster, he turns a simple and profane exit into the production’s funniest delivery.

Elsewhere, Cliff Burgess provides one of his most mature performances in one of the least showy parts in “Glengarry”—the chilly office manager Williamson, ruthless and cunning, the perfect capitalist functionary. Rounding out the cast are the uniformly excellent Peter Galman, bringing a “Death of a Salesman” sort of pathos to George Aaronow, Moss’ supposed unwitting accomplice in crime; Dan Leonard, embodying a sense of cuckolded malaise as Lingk, Roma’s latest mark; and Kenneth Kay as the police detective who investigates the staff, post-burglary.

When Plantation’s Mosaic Theatre produced “Glengarry” in 2008, I recall a version that was blustery and louder but not as handsome. Here, Lewis’ directing is kinetic and certainly relentless enough that the two hours simply soar by. As is often the case when the Maltz produces plays, small details heighten our experience of these men, their motivations and their surroundings: Donahoe’s nervously shaking leg, Burgess’ detached cleaning of his glasses in a key moment, Thompson’s frustrated tie adjustments, Allas’ timely spray of Binaca and, later, the impatient way he signals Lingk to follow him as if were addressing a dog, all add up to a richness that lives beyond Mamet’s words.

As always, the Maltz’s scenic design, by Anne Mundell, is exemplary—both her gaudy Chinese restaurant in Act One and especially her ransacked, shabby office in Act Two, with its sense of curved dimension and its upturned boxes, smeared glass windows and doors, and walls in need of a deep clean.

With its procession of implied or dramatized bribery, deception, theft and corruption, enough writers have commented that “Glengarry” appears to be Mamet’s vision of Hell on Earth. From the lurid red tablecloths, floors and blinds of Mundell’s Chinese eatery and the abnormally apocalyptic light that floods into the office windows at the play’s somber close, it’s hard to argue.

“Glengarry Glen Ross” plays through Sunday, Feb. 22 at Maltz Jupiter Theatre, 1001 E. Indiantown Road, Jupiter. Tickets cost $54-$79. Call 561/575-2223 or visit

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