By Kay Kipling
It's certainly no coincidence that the music leading us into the curtain rise for the Asolo Rep's Glengarry Glen Ross is jazz. The dialogue between the characters of this David Mamet play comes off like jazz; it's as if these people are improvising, riffing off what one of them says and bouncing it back to make something very much like sharp, staccato, urgent music.
It's urgent because each of these men--Glengarry Glen Ross harks back to those '80s Mamet days when he was very much writing male characters and not so much women--is desperate in one way or another. The first act give us three short scenes of male duos conversing in a Chinese restaurant in Chicago, where they are all working to sell lots in one of those Florida developments that gives the state a bad name. There's the old-timer, Shelly Levene (Douglas Jones), a guy with a needy daughter who hasn't had a sale recently and is pleading with the cold fish office manager (Jesse Dornan) for some good leads to work from. There's Ricky Roma (Eric Hissom), a slick salesman who's got a unique way of connecting with his current would-be buyer, a gullible guy named James Lingk (Francisco Rodriguez). And there's the aggressive Dave Moss (Jay Patterson), who just may be suggesting to fellow hard-lucker George Aaronow (David Breitbarth) that they break into their own office, steal the leads file and sell it for cold hard cash to a competitor.
He may be saying that, or he may not, because in typical Mamet fashion words are used very carefully and cleverly to hide meanings as well as make them clear. What we do know is that by Act II, someone has indeed broken into the office (which is just as depressing a sight in Lee Savage's grim set design as you'd expect it to be). And there's a young cop (Jacob Cooper) asking a lot of questions of the already frazzled salesmen.
Under the crisp direction of Carl Forsman, Glengarry Glen Ross allows each character a chance to show his humanity beneath the harsh talk (and of course, that talk is profane, but profane with a purpose). There's not a weak link in the cast, but Asolo stalwarts Jones and Breitbarth are especially strong here: Jones ultimately heartbreaking, Breitbarth a study in hangdog hopelessness. And Hissom turns in convincing work as Roma, the type of salesman who just won't let go of his prospect no matter what.
By turns funny and tragic, Glengarry Glen Ross is a good entry in the Asolo Rep's "American Character" season. It continues in rotating rep through Feb. 28; for tickets, call 351-8000 or go to asolorep.org.