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Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2008

Office Politics

Theater Review

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One of the classic scripts of the late 20th century, Glengarry Glen Ross, is a fascinating journey into the dark heart of big-ticket sales—the lifeblood of American capitalism. The Milwaukee Rep continues an impressive season with its well-executed production of the David Mamet play.

Scenic designer Todd Rosenthal’s set cleverly renders the somewhat decaying reality of a tiny, rundown real estate office in Illinois in the early ’80’s. While there are probably enough local actors in real estate to carve out a cast of seven actual realtors for a production of Mamet’s classic, the Rep has chosen instead to cast the show almost entirely from the ranks of its resident acting company.

Joining the Rep cast is talented actor and author James DeVita in the role of the brash, ambitious real estate salesman, Richard Roma. DeVita is energized here, playing the high-powered moxie of a slick salesman with a clever emotional momentum. We see him in action in his opening scene with an unsuspecting prospect played by Jonathan Gillard Daly. It’s disappointing to see Daly in a role that’s as limited as this one. Daly plays the victim incredibly well, particularly in his appearance at the end of the play, but he rarely seems to take center stage. Seasoned stage veteran Peter Silbert plays Shelley “The Machine” Levene—Roma’s former mentor who has fallen into a streak of bad luck on the job. Silbert has more than enough charisma to shine through the character’s darker side, making for a sympathetic character who anyone would want to see succeed.

James Pickering makes a shrewd appearance as Dave Moss—a much more sinister salesman whose manipulative conversation with younger colleague George Aaronow (non-resident actor Mark Murphey) is probably the single best moment in the production. In his debut appearance with the Rep, Murphey makes for an excellent straight man enduring Pickering’s brilliantly effective manipulations.

Lee Ernst plays John Williamson—the harried office manager who is in charge of handing out sales leads to the agents. Ernst is good here, but he doesn’t seem to have found that distinctive Ernst voice that he’s been so successful at bringing to so many other characters in the recent past. Also making an appearance here is Mark Corkins as Baylen—an investigator largely seen as an imposing figure through office glass.

Glengarry Glen Ross continues at the Quadracci Powerhouse Theater through March 2.
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