I liked Glengarry Glen Ross more than I thought would. That is, I didn’t like it that much, but I didn’t hate it. It’s no secret that I’m not in any way, shape or form a fan of playwright David Mamet, in fact I’ve really detested some of his shows.
As a matter of fact, my expectations were decidedly low for Glengarry. Theplay has a reputation as being the sine qua non of “manly straight man” Mamet territory, which I generally find really boring (in this area, Sam Shepard does everything Mamet does, but better, with genuine fire and wit). This, however, is better than Mamet’s other work in this area; I have long thought Mamet is a good comic writer, and Glengarry, as desperate and mean as its characters are, is essentially a comedy – it is certainly the most spirited and animated Mamet play I’ve ever seen.
Even the tragic things that happen to some of its characters happen in the context of a comic world. That is, while the stakes are indeed high, nobody falls from a great height, these schlemiels are almost already finished from the word “go.” That comic world is a fly by night real estate office in 1983 Chicago (Mamet himself worked in a real estate office in Chicago in 1969).
Al Pacino plays Shelly Levene, the only character whose fall is sad rather than laughable, but he’s more pathetic than really tragic. Pacino knows this, and plays Levene as a delusional sad sack who half realizes that his best days are behind him, and weren’t that great. Bobby Cannavale, charismatic and sexy as always, puts in a solid performance as Richard Roma, a slick up-and-comer who also seems to be the only person to see the good in Shelly.
So, yes, now that I’ve seen Glengarry, I can see the good in Mamet. Not the great, not even the marginally insightful, but the good. The other side of that: as far as I can tell, he wrote this well exactly once, which doesn’t justify his reputation. Finally my estimation of him remains the same: a talented, quirky comic writer who wilts when he gets serious and yet somehow still gets called a genius.
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