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 April 19, 2015
"The Pillowman" at Soulstice Theatre is a powerful play, full of gruesome tales of the abuse and murder of children. But behind all the shock is the enlightenment of how powerful and precious stories are to all of us.
Published April 18, 2015
The adaptation of the P. G. Wodehouse books about the stiff upper lip butler and his boss, Bertie Wooster, comes alive at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre. It's a night filled with laughter and more laughter.
Published April 16, 2015
Nobody expected the Milwaukee Bucks to be in the playoffs this year, but they surprised the world by being the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. The Bucks open the playoffs against the Chicago Bulls Saturday night.
Published April 16, 2015
Sheriff David Clarke is the darling of the far right and he is a favorite of the Fox News Network. But amidst all the bluster there are some truths to be discovered when he talks about the epidemic of black violence in Milwaukee.
Published April 15, 2015
I recently began walking with a cane. And I had to park near the Milwaukee Public Market. I parked at one end of the block and had to drag myself all the way to the other end.
Published April 14, 2015
Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy are set to take over the big rivalry that the PGA Tour needs to keep interest up. The two are likely to become the next Tiger vs, Phil or the next Jack vs. Arnie. And it will be god for golf.
Published April 13, 2015
"Luchadora" is a production commissioned by First Stage, and it's an amazing production - full of joys and important messages to young women. Written by UWM professor Alvaro Saar Rios, it's a production that every young woman, aunt, uncle and parent should see.
Published April 12, 2015
A frothy comedy by Peter Schaffer is a delight at Renaissance Theaterworks. For two hours it's a great character study filled with laughs. But a contrived ending makes the evening end on a note that is far less funny.
Published April 11, 2015
The question of evolution versus creationism is at the heart of "Ten Questions to Ask Your Biology Teacher About Evolution" at Next Act. The most refreshing part of this production is that it values each side of the argument.
Published April 9, 2015
Just one string of shootings last weekend raises a whole bunch of questions about what's happening in the black community in Milwaukee. It also raises questions about what the rest of the city thinks about the violence.