When we left to go out to the opening of The Mechanicals’ repertory company’s first opening tonight of David Mamet’s Glengarry, Glen Ross at The Little Theatre in Gardens, we realised that winter was so not over. It was overcast and cold; and when we walked out of the theatre it was properly raining. So much for a weather report. Now the play.
I love David Mamet. Nobody writes dialogue for actors like he does. His plays and movie scripts are brilliant to just listen to, and it takes a certain kind of actor to ‘get’ him. That’s why he often uses the same guys over again; William H. Macy and Joe Mantegna are two of my favourite examples of this. I always get excited at the idea of seeing a Mamet, even if it’s Glengarry, Glen Ross which has been done a million times. Obviously there is the movie too, which has almost subsumed the play; so familiarity with the plot and characters is pretty good. This puts huge pressure on a production to be really good, or special. And tonight there were definitely moments of this, but on the whole it was a bit of a let down.
I’ll start with the really good bits. Firstly, it’s great to see a big, juicy seven hander on stage. Then, there were some really, really fine individual performances. I loved Scott Sparrow as Dave. He was energetic and focused. His character and voice were connected and his Mamet timing and phrasing were spot on. It helped that he had Jason Potgieter to bounce off, who was superb as the Woody Allenesque nerd George. Nick Pauling was fabulous as Roma. He nailed the character and the style and totally held his power. And Kate Liquorish as Jane was delicious. Almost-there, for me, was Guy Delancey whose characterisation was phenomenal but whose energy was just too small for the theatre.
Not successful was the poor girl Tinarie Van Wyk Loots, who got a Joan instead of a John Williamson. She was stiff and awkward, and really struggled with the status and power swings of the character. It’s not her fault though. To be fair, Glengarry, Glen Ross is meant to be a sexist, men’s only boy’s club, and the addition of women (for obvious reasons, since the play is in rep with Sam Shepard’s Buried Child) definitely diluted the impact. Yes, it has dated, yes, times have changed, but the women were definitely sore thumbish.
I think the biggest problem for me was Luke Ellenbogen’s direction. Mamet is a bitch to direct. It is all about rhythm and pace. First you have the individual characters and their lines, sometimes even single words. Then you have the scenes, and then the whole thing has to fit together, a bit like a symphony. Tonight it felt like the piece plodded from scene to scene. Unfortunately there was no true Mamet hysteria that erupted tonight. It was all a little too small and controlled. The big explosion, with Roma blasting the hell out of Joan felt totally wrong and small and weak. This was because he was shouting at a girl. It just wasn’t the same. Also, the blocking was hideous, with him going around and around her while she sat on the chair.
The result of all this was that when the lights went out and Big Friendly turned to me and asked if they were done, I was unsure: I couldn’t remember if there was more, but it felt like there should have been.