Ronald Reagan became president in 1981, and three years later, when David Mamet’s "Glengarry Glen Ross" hit Broadway, America was in the throes of ambitious commercialism and a lust for material wealth.
Mamet won a Pulitzer Prize for his searing story about men and their lust, their savagery to each other and the personal wilderness they often find themselves stuck in.
The play has been done often, at all levels, since its Broadway debut, and the version that opened at Off The Wall Theatre on Thursday night is a production that matches the explosive power of the script.
Under the direction of Jeremy C. Welter, who also takes a turn as one of the main characters, Off The Wall captures both the frightening immorality and problematic redemption of Mamet’s play. As an added measure, this production also finds humanity in men who seem overwhelmed with greed.
The story is about five real estate salesmen. It takes place in 1983 in Chicago, and the entire play is focused on two things: The Lead and The Board.
The Lead is the path to wealth. It’s the tip of the spear that can be driven into the heart of poverty and cure the illness of being without. The Lead is cherished, battled over and lusted after by the salesmen who know that it is only through the possession of good leads will they be able to achieve.
Which brings us to The Board, where the score is kept. Just the way success was measured in the '80s – your car, your wife, your job, your country club, your golf handicap, your watch, your suits, your college – the Board measures the monthly success of the salesmen.
And The Board represents the catch-22 of the driven pursuit of material wealth. You need to be on The Board to get the best leads. Without the best leads, it’s virtually impossible to get your name on The Board.
The production at Off The Wall is led by an exquisite performance by veteran Milwaukee actor Michael Pocaro, as Shelly Levene, the veteran salesman who finds his history of success not mattering even a little bit as younger generation of smarter, more cunning and empathy-free salesmen take center stage.
Pocaro captures both the sorrow of a man whose time has almost run out and the craven nature of his dismal efforts to retain a shred of dignity and prosperity. He’s willing to lie, cheat, bribe and even close his eyes to the fools he convinces to sign a contract that is worthless.
Welter’s Richard Roma is the manipulative hotshot in the office. He sits on top of The Board and is brutal in his drive to stay there, reaping the benefits of being the star. Money, a Cadillac and vacations are all in his sights if everyone else would just cooperate and give him the best leads that he believes are his due.
Played by Joe Krapf, Dave Moss is the most obviously schemer of all the salesmen, trying to structure the theft of a list of prime leads so he can sell them to another realtor. Krapf does marvelous justice to the disgusting nature of his character, playing him as profane and sleazy as they come.
Robert Hirschi delivers as good a performance as I’ve ever seen him do. Hirschi is a marvelous singer, and here he creates a character that seems almost musical in his confusion, uncertainty and fear. He’s on The Board but is frightened by all that is being asked of him, both by Krapf – who wants him to steal the leads – and by what his life demands on a daily basis as a big time salesman.
The office manager is played by Mark Neufang. His character wields what little power he has like a guillotine, as ready to chop off a head as he is to take a bribe. Neufang’s performance is full of bitter vile, and nobody in the office either likes or trusts him.
Dale Gutzman, the smart and fearless impresario of Off The Wall, loves plays that take an audience to the edge of some hinterland where questions and answers fly like a flock of pigeons after the sound of thunder.
He’s done it once again with "Glengarry Glen Ross."
"Glengarry Glen Ross" runs through Feb. 16. Information can be obtained at offthewalltheatre.com.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Dave Begel
Published Oct. 30, 2014
What could possibly deliver more fun than a night of cool food, great wine selected just for you and an evening of wonderful theater? That's the idea behind the Saturday Date Night package created by David Cecsarini's Next Act Theatre.
Published Oct. 30, 2014
This is my last column before the election next Tuesday and so, I have debated and thought and listened to friend and foe alike and I have finally reached a decision. I have weighed and examined the issues and the personalities and the promises and the past records and I'm done. Here are the top 14 reasons to vote for Mary Burke.
Published Oct. 28, 2014
You want to stage an opera, but you have this commitment to letting new voices and new ideas be heard and seen - even if it means you sometimes have to climb out on that limb while the only thing you hold in your hand is a baby monkey clad in cute little jump suit.
Published Oct. 28, 2014
Regarding a new arena, the rhetoric is about politics, Downtown development, recreational facilities and history versus progress - but it's really all about the Milwaukee Bucks and the ability of this city to keep them here.
Published Oct. 26, 2014
One of the greatest American plays ever written, "The Glass Menagerie" is about a controlling, difficult mother and her two children, both trapped by their own devils. Take that famous play, shoot it full of steroids and you've got "The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-In-The-Moon Marigolds," the Paul Zindel play currently getting a striking and emotional treatment by Splinter Group.
Published Oct. 24, 2014
Michael Pink, the artistic director of the Milwaukee Ballet, is an artist who has a great respect and affection for the literary and musical giants of past, just has he has a diligent commitment to encouraging and producing new works. But more than anything else, Pink is a storyteller, a man in love with a good yarn that tells a tale of romance, adventure and the forces of good and evil.
Published Oct. 23, 2014
Betrayal, revenge, a little more betrayal, a little more revenge, then even more revenge and a white lace handkerchief. That's about all you have to know about "My Dear Othello," the Theatre Gigante production opening tonight at the Kenilworth Studio 508 Theater.
Published Oct. 23, 2014
When you want to decide who to vote for in a particular election -- like the governor's race that's on our doorstep -- probably the absolute worst way to get information about the candidates is through television or radio ads. There is probably nothing more inaccurate of deceitful than these ads which are created by campaigns, parties and various support groups.
Published Oct. 21, 2014
The Green Bay Packers destroyed the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, and were leading, 21-0, after one quarter. It led me to wonder: is it better, or more fun to watch, a rout or a nail-biter.
Published Oct. 20, 2014
It was just a rehearsal - no costumes, no set, no orchestra, no chorus, no plush seats, no lights on stage. As a matter of fact, there was no stage at all, just a piano. And the whole thing was in German. In spite of all of those things that weren't there, the thing that was there was a fascinating story and some amazing voices that told the story with such romance and strength that I followed the whole thing from my folding chair.