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Photograph by Dave Lepori
SALES PITCHERS: (From left) Michael Ray Wisely, Randall King, Stephen Klum and Colin Thomson follow their leads in 'Glengarry Glen Ross.'

Closing The Deal

The desperate salesmen in S.J. Stage Company's 'Glengarry Glen Ross' show their virility in their language

By Marianne Messina

IN DAVID MAMET'S play Glengarry Glen Ross, five Desperate Salesmen—more desperate and foul-mouthed than the Housewives—lie, cheat, steal, con and compete for a Cadillac (and to keep their jobs through a downsizing) in a company driven by the motto "Always Be Closing." As the play opens, Shelley Levene (Stephen Klum), clinging to last year's self-image as a top salesman, tries to badger John the "lead marshaler" (Michael C. Storm) into giving him some good leads. With little action and fewer props, Act 1 of San Jose Stage Company's production, directed by Matthew Spangler, accentuates the effect of Mamet's ellipses and repetitions, presumably because there is a kind of humor in it. Maybe the long-windedness of these blowhards is an acquired taste. At a Chinese restaurant (apparently near a train station, what with the clatter and moving lights of the darkened scene breaks), Shelley and John sit at a small, lone table awash in an angry red color theme—red Chinese lanterns, red wall boards, red tablecloth (set design Richard C. Ortenblad). This desolate ambience abstracts the location, making it "any restaurant." Later, the other characters are introduced, two by two, at the same table. The first-act staging doesn't provide enough props or actions to clarify the words or bring out the ironies. Another presumption in this all-language presentation is that we care enough to sort and file all the name references and pick through these characters' no-content fragments, the half-explained events, to piece together their backstory. Good luck with that.

Visually emphasizing the differences between the acts—one episodic, the other chaotic—the production does provide a neat sort of inner landscape/outer landscape contrast. Dreary Act 1 gives way to the brightly lit scatter of desks in the sales office of Act 2. Here, characters make entrances and exits and slam doors as if they're in a parlor farce. The company also triumphs in treating Mamet's rhythms like a symphony, so that—ignoring content completely—we get an intriguing sense of the linguistic "trancing" going on (to rip off playwright Robert Clyman's word). The salesmen use a sort of dominance framing to set up the sell, and the effect is most clear when the gulled James Lingk (Kevin Kennedy) apologizes to hot salesman Richard Roma (Randall King) for "letting Roma down" by backing out of the sale. In Mamet's world, a man's virility lives in the rhythm and delivery of his language, though some of Mamet's lines would best be played inebriated: "What is our life?" Roma asks, "It's looking forward and looking back." Sheesh. Strong performances by Michael Ray Wisely as Dave Moss and King as Roma pull clear, humorous character "types" out of the garble. Others seem to lose all character in vacuous pauses or overthumping delivery. The play is unequivocally comedic only on rare occasions: George (Colin Thomson) says, "When I talk to the police, I get nervous." Roma replies: "You know who doesn't? ... Thieves." Again, a squirmy humor pokes through when Roma tries to wriggle Lingk past wanting his check back. Delivered in Mamet's overrated clutter of truncated speech, Glengarry Glen Ross is what happens after the inner death of a salesman, when it's all over but the posturing.

GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, a San Jose State Company production, plays Wednesday–Thursday at 7:30pm, Friday–Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2pm through March 2 at The Stage, 490 S. First St., San Jose. Tickets are $20–$45. (408.283.7142)

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