“GlenGarry Glen Ross” tells the story of four, desperate real estate agents in Chicago in the early 1980s. These men lie, threaten, bribe and steal all in the span of two days. The dark comedy by the great, American playwright, David Mamet, opens on the Saenger stage Friday, March 30 and Saturday, March 31.
“The play shows how men cope with each other in high pressure situations,” said director Robert Gandrup. “It shows people what a man will do under a great deal of pressure while trying living up to a higher moral standard.”
“It’s almost like watching a Jane Goodall documentary, watching men fight for the alpha position,” said Bill Whalen who plays one of the agents, John Williamson.
“Glengarry Glen Ross” is a special fundraiser for the Saenger Theatre Non-Profit Grant Fund. Although the local actors and director are more than happy to contribute to the beautiful theatre, being a part of a Mamet production did have its draws.
“This is actually my favorite play,” said Zach Bookout, who plays one of the agents, George Aaronow. “I always wanted the chance to do a David Mamet play – the difficulty is a bit higher.”
Rodney Whatley just received his doctorate in dramatic theory and criticism from Florida State University. His specialty was Mamet.
“Not a week goes by that I don’t say, ‘Well, according to David Mamet,’” said Whatley.
Whatley has worked closely behind the scenes of productions at Pensacola State College as Director of Theatre. He’s returning to the stage to play Shelly Levene, the oldest agent of the characters who is desperate to close one more big deal.
“My character is at the end of his productivity,” Whatley said. “He has nothing to fall back on – fear generates his anger.”
Written almost 30 years ago, the play is still relatable in this uncertain economic climate. Johnnie Odom, who plays James Lingk, a client of the most successful agent in the office, sees the similarities between the professional workforce in 1984 and today.
“The conditions are changing so they do desperate things,” Odom says of the main characters. “Whatever it was they were doing can’t be done anymore – much like the changes in the newspaper industry. Suddenly online papers pop up and people want their news for free. It’s adapt or die.”
While the characters can be cutthroat, the play is funny too.
“There’s a good deal of humor,” Whalen said. “It’s very entertaining.”
Gandup compares it to critically acclaimed shows on channels like HBO and Showtime.
“It’s an adult product,” he said referring to its mature language. “I don’t know if it’s for everybody, but it’s pretty funny.”
The play’s 1980s style – songs such as “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” and “Mr. Roboto” played during rehearsal – is fun to visit as well.
“It gave me the chance to grow a ridiculous mustache,” Bookout said.
The play had its first opening night on Broadway in 1984. It was nominated for two Tony awards and won the Pulitzer Prize for drama that year. Although they have the pressure of meeting the high expectations of those who have seen the
play or movie, local cast and crew are more focused on making the production the best it can be instead of comparing it to the original.
“You really can’t go into it with those thoughts,” Whalen said. “You have to approach it as though it’s never been done before.”
The cast and crew are some of Pensacola’s finest, with years of experience and passion between all of them.
“This is one of the best companies in town,” Gandrup said of the cast.
Actors were also excited to work with Gandrup.
“Anything he’s involved in, I want to be involved in,” Odom said.
“Glengarry Glen Ross” is a refreshing change of pace in the local theatre seen.
“It’s not a musical,” Bookout said. “It’s way different, more edgy.”
Yet like every local production, it’s a play by the community for the community. And perhaps this particular one will start a few conversations.
“I prefer theatre to movies,” Whatley said. “It’s the sense of community. Come out with questions about existence – and maybe some answers.”
GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 30 and Saturday, March 31
WHERE: Saenger Theatre, 118 S. Palafox
COST: $15, proceeds benefit the Saenger Theatre Non-Profit Grant Fund