December 9. 2012 – NEW YORK — No Broadway production this season arrived with a more prestigious collective pedigree than the revival of Glengarry Glen Ross (*** out of four) that opened Saturday at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre.
In this staging of David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, the estimable Daniel Sullivan directs an assemblage of gifted stage and screen veterans — among them Al Pacino, whom Sullivan last guided on stage in a stunning The Merchant of Venice.
Pacino also has a longstanding connection to Glengarry: In the 1992 screen version, he memorably played Richard “Ricky” Roma, the slick alpha dog in a Chicago real estate office filled with salesmen struggling to preserve their jobs and sense of manhood. Now, at 72, he’s cast as Shelly Levene, a former hotshot reduced to pleading for better leads. Bobby Cannavale, 30 years younger and one of the most consistently exciting actors of his generation, plays Roma.
It would be hard to name two performers who seem better suited to the gritty, jazzy music of Mamet’s dialogue, and they are joined here by such vital players as Richard Schiff, David Harbour and John C. McGinley, who blazes through the part of office bully Dave Moss.
But Glengarry demands something more than raw dynamism. It’s essential that we feel the desperation that propels Levene and his colleagues, even nipping at Roma’s polished heels. While Sullivan and his cast convey the brutality of the men’s work environment, they don’t always nail the crackling wit — or the sense of personal futility that haunts these guys.
Some exchanges seem either too studied or overeager, so that the humor registers as more boisterous than caustic. The comedy and pathos in Glengarry are interwoven; we should be able to laugh at these characters even as they humiliate and endanger themselves and each other. But there are times when the jousting fails to sting or threatens to veer into slapstick — and when Pacino’s delivery, in particular, borders on mugging.
Yet the star’s performance can be nuanced, too, and intricately human. In the first scene, where Levene appeals to his reluctant office manager — played by a simmering Harbour — he’s both a hustler and a beggar, obnoxious and pitiable, relentless and broken. Pacino continues to juggle those qualities in the second act, which occurs after an office robbery and finds Levene by turns triumphant and utterly defeated.
Schiff and Jeremy Shamos also have affecting moments as, respectively, a salesman whose lack of gumption or self-respect gets him into trouble, and a mousy civilian whom Roma seduces into a transaction he later regrets. Predictably, Cannavale captures Roma’s feral charisma; he also manages a funny, at times almost tender rapport with Pacino’s Levene.
It’s not every day that you get to see such top-notch performers play hardball onstage, and their flashes of electricity sustain this imperfect Glengarry.
Myla Lerner, one of the show’s producers, is married to USA TODAY publisher Larry Kramer.