Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Philadelphia

Glengarry Glen Ross

Also see Nancy's review of The Life of Galileo

H. Michael Walls, Harry Philibosian and William Zielinski
For the last few years, Theatre Exile has quietly been building a reputation as a home for edgy, exciting, fresh work. On first glance, it might seem that their newest production might be an exception; what could be fresh about Glengarry Glen Ross? After all, David Mamet's play has become awfully familiar; it won a Pulitzer Prize in 1984, and has spawned a movie, two memorable Tony-winning Broadway productions, and a generation's worth of imitations. But it remains a work of rare power, and Theatre Exile's crackling version proves there's still a lot of life in Glengarry yet.

Glengarry Glen Ross is the story of real estate agents who will lie, cheat and steal just to close a deal, all the while doing their best to outsell, outmaneuver, and - this being a Mamet play - out-curse their fellow salesmen. It's a world of preening, macho posturing - no women are allowed in this office, apparently - but it's not just a battle for bragging rights; as one character says, "I gotta close this deal or I don't eat lunch." The salesmen fight to win a sales contest with a Cadillac as a prize, but the stakes are much higher; for some of them, this really is a matter of life and death.

Glengarry centers on two sometimes-friendly warriors in this fight for survival - Shelly "The Machine" Levene, a former king of the hill, and Ricky Roma, the new master of slick sales talk. Harry Philibosian is marvelous as Levene, capturing all the desperation that drives him, then radiating joy when he makes a sale that makes all his hard work seem worthwhile ... for a time. As Roma, William Zielinski is a fascinating combination of bluntness and charm, especially in the scene where he uses both to hoodwink a timid customer (the excellent Brian McCann). While he doesn't approach the lethal magnetism of recent Romas like Liev Schreiber (Broadway, 2005) or Ruben Santiago-Hudson (McCarter Theatre, 2000), Zielinski puts his own fierce mark on the role, showing why, in this office, Roma is the man to beat - and to fear.

There's also very strong work from H. Michael Walls as a salesman who plots to steal the sales "leads," Joe Canuso as the nervous co-worker who unwittingly becomes a part of that robbery plot, and Dan Hodge as the office manager who hides a lot behind a calm façade. As directed by Matt Pfeiffer, the ensemble has mastered the tricky rhythms of Mamet's choppy dialogue while imbuing the lines with their strong individual personalities.

Special praise must go to set designer Matt Saunders, who has made impressive use of the big room Theatre Exile uses on the third floor of Christ Church Neighborhood House. (There's a basketball hoop behind the seats, which might give you an idea of how vast the space is.) Saunders' set for the real estate office uses nearly all the available space in the room, and uses actual windows and doors very effectively.

When a broken, defeated Shelly Levene walks to his boss's office in the play's last moments, he trudges up a narrow stairway to get there, making him look like a condemned man on his way to the gallows ... which, in a way, he is. It's just one example of what makes Theatre Exile's Glengarry Glen Ross so compelling and worthwhile.

Glengarry Glen Ross has been extended through May 20, 2007 and is presented by Theatre Exile at Christ Church Neighborhood House, 20 North American Street, Philadelphia. Tickets are $15-$40 and are available by calling 215-922-4462 or online at

Glengarry Glen Ross
By David Mamet
Directed by Matt Pfeiffer
Stage Manager... Sara Waxman
Set Designer... Matt Saunders
Lighting Designer... James Leitner
Sound Designer... Mike Kiley
Costume Designer... Alison Roberts
Production Manager... Carol Laratonda

Shelly Levene... Harry Philibosian
John Williamson... Dan Hodge
David Moss... H. Michael Walls
George Aaronow... Joe Canuso
Ricky Roma... William Zielinski
James Lingk... Brian McCann
Detective Baylen... Bill Rayhill

Photo: Cory Frisco

-- Tim Dunleavy

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