Glengarry Glen Ross
West Michigan University Theatre
Zack L. York Arena Theatre, Kalamazoo
Sept. 26-28, Oct. 3-6; show times at 8 and 2 p.m.
$10-20 (WMU students $5)
wmich.edu/theatre, (269) 387-6222
In Glengarry Glen Ross, the letters 'ABC' aren't Big Bird's pals or the cheesy accessories of choice on Teacher Appreciation Day. That's because in this dark psychological thriller, 'ABC' stands for 'Always Be Closing,' and if you're not closing a deal, then someone's closing you.
Kicking off West Michigan University Theatre's season, Glengarry Glen Ross tells the story of four fiercely competitive salesmen in a floundering real-estate agency. For these Chicago backstabbers, no measure is too extreme in the ruthless pursuit of a sealed deal. When the company announces a high-stakes sales competition, desperation soars to an unprecedented fever pitch. The top seller walks away with a Cadillac, the bottom two with a pink slip.
Ramping up the raw intensity of this storyline, the WMU version of Glengarry Glen Ross features several distinctive touches. Most notably, the play adds the character Blake, who delivers the iconic 'Always Be Closing' speech. Although Blake never appeared in the original Glengarry Glen Ross, the play's writer David Mamet added the character in the 1992 screenplay. Memorably portrayed by Alec Baldwin in the film, Blake has become an embodiment of the story's harsh, cut-throat reality.
"[Blake's] character adds to the tension in a powerful, dramatic way," Director D. Terry Williams said. "It was so clever of Mamet to add that character, and I'm so thrilled that he did. It's a wonderful scene [Blake] is in. He lays down the law and announces the contest that really sets the tone of the play. The results of his pronouncement and threat add to the panic and desperation. [The salesmen] are now no longer colleagues but competitors."
Another plus of this production is the way in which its venue enhances the audience's experience. A black box space no stranger to psychological dramas, the Zack L. York Arena theatre seats only 115 patrons and provides an intensely intimate feel.
"When you're in the Black Box Theatre, you are in the office with [the characters]" Williams said. "Those desks are only a couple of feet from the first row and there are only four rows. If you are in the back row, you're only six feet from the action, so physically you are going to be psychologically engaged whether you want to be or not in a way you won't be in a movie theatre ... I hope the audience will leave with mental exhaustion."
While savage brutality dominates, glimmers of satirical wit and dark humor release tension without diluting the play's forcefulness. The second-place prize in the sales competition is a set of steak knives, for example. Touches like this allow the play to evoke and engage a wide range of emotions.
"When the tension is almost unbearable, there'll be a laugh. Also, a playwright can release tension with shock, and there are a lot of those moments in the play," Williams said. "It's a perfect storm; that's a really good metaphor for this play because it gets pretty stormy with relationships and competition."
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