Round House Theatre has a hit on its hands. Glengarry Glen Ross, the award-winning play about several scrupulous and unethical Chicago real estate agents who will do pretty much anything to get ahead, is one of David Mamet's most produced plays and quite frankly, I never understood what all the fuss was about. I thought several of his other works were far more insightful examinations of contemporary American society - the good, the bad, and the ugly. However, Director Mitchell Hébert and his fine cast make me see why this play works when it's done well. This intermission-less production certainly meets the mark; it's ambitious, bold, fast-paced, and offers some of the best acting one can see in DC.
Bringing together the 'A-List' of DC actors - Rick Foucheux and Alexander Strain, along with KenYatta Rogers, Jeff Allin, Conrad Feininger, Jesse Terrill, and Stephen Patrick Martin - Hebért has managed to highlight the comedic and dramatic aspects of Mamet's razor sharp-edge script. The power of the script lies within the way Mamet gives us insight into the men who take and, to a lesser extent, are taken. Hébert and his fine cast are able to fully capture it in a way I've not seen before.
Harsh yet witty, the success of a production of Glengarry Glen Ross hinges on whether the actors can naturally portray the mostly slimy men in a believable way. The men in this production have the believability factor in spades - Foucheux, Strain, Feininger, and Terrill in particular. Foucheux, as Shelly Levine, simultaneously shows us where Levine has been and where he is now. Through his portrayal we see glimpses of the Levene of yesteryear, a salesman at the top of his game, and understand how difficult it must be for him now that he's been surpassed. Strain is more than appropriately intense and ruthless as the young, up-and-comer Richard Roma and serves as a nice juxtaposition to Feininger's seamless portrayal of George Aarnow - a man who has lost the 'fight' that Roma seems to be embarking on now. Terrill, as James Lingk (Roma's latest prey), is mousy and weak and gives us a glimpse at just one of the probably many men that have been taken by the ruthless men.
Further, all the actors shine on an individual basis - a necessary element because all of the men they're portraying want to matter and be remembered - and at the same time, they offer some of the best ensemble acting I've seen in recent months. Particularly in the culminating scenes where all the men are present and secrets are found out, no one fades to the background, but no one chews the scenery either. It's extraordinarily balanced.
Although the entire production is pretty much flawless, several design aspects deserve to be highlighted. James Kronzer's realistic set, featuring a non-descript Chinese restaurant where the men do some of their business and a run-down office space where all of the men dream and scheme to make it ahead, is one of the most intricate ones that I have seen at Round House. It captures the seedy world of 1980s 'big city America' quite nicely. An impressive set change following the men returning from the restaurant to their office actually garnered applause at the performance I witnessed. This set, along with Ivania Stack's costume designs (comprised of suits small-time business men would wear), Daniel MacLean Wagner's institutional lighting, and Matthew M. Nielson's compositions (and to a lesser extent, sound design) take the audience to the high-stakes world that the men live in.
With this believable setting, combined with the believable acting, it's much easier for the audience to immerse itself willingly into Mamet's world.
Running Time: A little over 70 minutes with no intermission.
Glengarry Glen Ross plays through March 3, 2013 at Round House Theatre - 4545 East-West Highway in Bethesda, MD. Tickets can be purchased by calling the box office at 240-644-1100 or online.
Photo Credit: Danisha Crosby (Rick Foucheux pictured).