Actors theatre of San Francisco does it again

Actors Theater of San Francisco presents…..
by David Mamet
Directed by Keith Phillips

What we call real estate –the solid ground to build a house on-
Is the broad foundation on which nearly all the guilt of this world rests.
Nathaniel Hawthorne

There are two reasons to put Actors Theatre’s production of GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS on your must- see list. One is to hear David Mamet’s incisive, electric prose and the other is to experience Christian Phillips on stage. Both show us the best that theater can be. Phillips is one of the finest talents in the Bay Area. His character interpretations are superb: sensitive, intelligent and true to the spirit of every play he is in.

David Mamet won a well-deserved Pulitzer Prize for this play. His prose is so distinctive it has been named “Mamet-speak” and is both shocking and poetic at the same time. He attributes the source of his dialogue to his own family conversations. "In the days prior to television, we liked to while away the evenings by making ourselves miserable, based solely on our ability to speak the language viciously,” he said. “That's probably where my ability was honed."

Every one of his works strip the façade from business and profit. He reduces our social interactions to contests where cheating and lying win the game even as they trample the weak among us. His plot development cuts to the bone. No one can leave a Mamet play untouched by the bigotry and unscrupulous lack of morality seen on his stage. Indeed, Mamet casts a scathing light on our disintegrating sense of social responsibility and our devotion to the almighty dollar. As we watch his dramas unfold, we are horrified to recognize ourselves, our neighbors and our future.

GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS was written during the Reagan administration in the early 1980’s and its plot centers around men struggling to survive in a business atmosphere where the money rules and integrity takes a back seat. Yet, does it really? Whenever I watch a Mamet play I always have to remind myself that he is drawing a picture of real people under immense stress to survive. At first, every character seems so disgusting that I cannot believe they are human and then, as I watch the plot develop I realize these are human beings hanging on to the only way they know to make a living…and making a living is survival. In business, the guy who manages manipulate the customer into believing a lie, is the one who makes that sale.

And that is where Christian Phillips’ genius comes into play. His character is Ricky Roman, a slick, unscrupulous salesmen with a heart. When George Aaronow (Sean Hallinan) comes to him depressed and defeated, Roma says, ”Hey cut that shit out, George. You're a good man; you just hit a bad streak.”

Roma, as Phillips plays him, understands how frightened every real estate salesman has to be in a business where all that matters is the sale you make today. He says,”What is our life? It is either looking forward or looking back. The strength I have is acting each day without fear. “

Roma differs from the others in that office because he sees the real estate business for what it is and he makes it work for him. Of all the men in the play, he is the most successful at the game they are trying to play.

Each character has his moment in this beautifully paced, hard hitting drama about the corruption we pretend we don’t see every day. To watch Frank Willey as John Williamson eat his food with no sign of emotion while John Krause (Shelley Levene) tells him how much he needs his help is a study in cruel indifference. Sean Halliman’s George Aaronow is a timid, frightened man trying not to go under and watching him fumble his chopsticks eating rice and trying to absorb what Dave Moss (Mark Bird) is telling him to do is theater at its finest.

Levene is a man who is living in the past using techniques that once brought him success but are not calculating enough when the stakes are as high as they are in current real estate. He has not lost his ability to take pride in his work but he is fast realizing his sense of right and wrong no longer serves him in the business he is in. Roma confirms it when he says, “I swear it's not a world of men; it's not a world of men. It's a world of clock watchers, bureaucrats, officeholder’s what it is, it's a fucked up world there's no adventure to it. (Pause.) Dying breed. Yes it is. (Pause.) We are the members of a dying breed.”

There are many ways to play Ricky Roma and Phillips has chosen to show him as a intelligent man who is not afraid of the path he needs to take for success, but has not lost his sense of compassion for others who are fumbling in this cut-throat scramble for money and prestige. Selling real estate is an art. Roma has mastered it and Levene has not.

Actors Theatre proves again and again that you do not need huge budgets, extravagant costumes and spectacular sets to produce outstanding theater. All you need is good acting, an understanding of the core value of the drama, and imaginative directing. Keith Phillips’s direction is just what it should be in a Mamet play. He has allowed nothing to detract from the dialogue. The sets, designed by Biz Duncan, are spare and just enough to create the sense of place. Each scene is beautifully paced. There is not a wasted moment. The characters movement is perfectly orchestrated. Nothing detracts from these 6 men fighting to outpace one another in a game where no one ever wins.

GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS is magnificent theater and this production gives it the treatment it deserves. Don’t miss another example of the fine work Actor’s Theatre gives us with each of its productions.
If the real estate gang could, they'd raise the rents in the graveyard.
Frank Dane

GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS continues Wednesdays-Saturdays @ 8pm until March 24, 2012, 855 Bush Street, San Francisco, CA
Tickets: General Admission: $38, Student and Senior price: $26; 413 345 1287 or

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