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. 23, 2016
Three women, all dressed in bridal gowns, each tell a tale of how that turn-of-the-century bathtub, filled with water, became a dastardly end for the brides shortly after their magical weddings. That's "The Drowning Girls" at Renaissance Theaterworks.
Published Oct. 21, 2016
"Scheherazade" was the feature when Milwaukee Ballet opened its season Thursday night, but it was the opening act - "Angels in the Architecture" by Mark Godden - that stole the show, proving how exciting and thrilling this company can be.
Published Oct. 20, 2016
For many Milwaukeeans, Sheriff Clarke's recent comments have only made him more of a national and international embarrassment to the city. Perhaps the answer is a recall election - which requires only 13% of the adults in the county sign a petition.
Published Oct. 18, 2016
Sometimes it can be difficult to fully understand how magnificent First Stage is in the theatrical firmament, not just in Milwaukee, but across the country as well. Take a look at "Goosebumps," which opened over the weekend, to see how they do it every time.
Published Oct. 16, 2016
It's not always the case that a play lives up to either its title or its billing, but First Stage, as you might expect, does just that with "Goosebumps: Phantom of the Auditorium: The Musical," which opened over the weekend.
Published Oct. 13, 2016
The Milwaukee Ballet opens its season Oct. 20 with two one-act programs that are as different as night and day. "Angels in the Architecture" is about the Shaker religion, while "Scheherazade" is filled with romance, intrigue and spectacular costumes.
Published Oct. 12, 2016
Disney princesses are revered in the world of storybook tales, films, books and theme parks. "Disenchanted," the musical review running at the Marcus Center, turns those princesses around with a musical of riotous humor about how ridiculous they can be.
Published Oct. 11, 2016
I made a mistake and I'm sorry. In my review of "Dracula vs. the Nazis," which opened Friday night at In Tandem Theatre, I identified a couple that slept through much of the show. Naming the couple who invited them was out of bounds.
Published Oct. 8, 2016
How bad was it? This bad. A couple who were the invited guests of the couple that sponsored the play, slept through giant chunks of the play. That's the low point of "Dracula vs. the Nazis" that opened at In Tandem Theatre Friday night.
Published Oct. 6, 2016
I am now almost 1,500 rides into my part-time job as an Uber driver, and one of the most fascinating things I have noticed, and continue to notice, is apparel. People wear a variety of things - a lot of it depending on where they are going.