Sunday, September 19, 2010

An Ostentation of MAMET By Beverly Creasey

You have your choice of Mamets this week at the Arsenal Center for the Arts. BOSTON MARRIAGE is playing upstairs at New Repertory Theatre and GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS leases the Black Box Theater downstairs.

GLENGARRY is Mamet’s most celebrated play for its take-no-prisoners portrait of the gritty real estate game. (Mamet knows whereof he speaks, having worked in the business). He writes smart, nasty dialogue for his male characters but his female characters are another story. He’s been accused of being a misogynist, as most of the women he creates are predatory (Think OLEANNA). For my money, though, the women in the BOSTON MARRIAGE are not of that ilk. They’re supposed to be strong, turn of the century gals who don’t want or need men. Yet they come across as tropes, not as real women. They’re evidently what Mr. Mamet thinks women were like a hundred years ago: scheming, petulant, needy, hyperbolic and brutally class conscious.

When all the men in a Mamet play like GLENGARRY (or my favorite, AMERICAN BUFFALO) are despicable, we’re amused, delighted even, with their extraordinarily bad behavior, but make both women in the Boston alliance cruel, deceitful and callous and there’s little delight in it. I’ve seen two versions of BOSTON MARRIAGE: the initial outing directed by Mamet himself and this “Oscar Wilde” version directed by David Zoffoli (where the characters speak like Lady Bracknell). Even a stylized delivery doesn’t make the oddball dialogue funny. When the foulmouthed salesmen of GLENGARRY kid about “courtesy class” it’s cheeky and sardonic. When one of the women contends that “men live but to be deceived” or that “one must follow the buffalo herd,” it’s neither witty nor sardonic. It’s just strange for strangeness sake.

Try as they might, Jennie Israel and Debra Wise, both fine actresses, cannot make us understand why they’re speaking like Victorian poseurs. Melissa Baroni has an easier time of it as the longsuffering maid, the only character who’s authentic. She doesn’t engage in banter about the ruination of purses or the longing of loins. One syllable says it all for her. (I wish I could supply the “mute appreciation” the central character craves from her sister but I cannot.) The contentious BOSTON MARRIAGE plays through Oct. 3rd.

I can, however, rave about a shoestring production of GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS from Zero Point Theater. They may not have fancy sets (or Spellcheck) but they have crackerjack acting to create Mamet’s dog-eat-dog banquet of bad behavior. Before the housing bubble and the ’08 crash and the banks to blame, there was GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, a celebration (or vilification depending on your point of view) of the tract salesman, the guy who sells units before there are any. Mamet called them “a dying breed” and he was right…soon thereafter replaced by rapacious mortgage lenders.

Director Emil S. Kreymer gets supple performances from David DiLillo as the desperate old fashioned salesman who isn’t cutting it any more, from Brian Zifcak as the parasitic office manager, from Kenneth Siddons as the larcenous “mastermind” behind the scenes, from Jack Agnew as the benighted client conned by sales leader Ricky Roma (Sean Stanco in a charismatic turn as the brash know-it-all) and from Walter Driscoll as the funniest Aaronow I’ve encountered in many a GLENGARRY performance. Watching Driscoll suffer the closer he gets to his interview with the police is simply delicious. Director Kreymer filled in nicely for an ailing actor (as the policeman) the night I attended. See it before the closing this weekend!