Eugene Weekly : Theater : 12.11.08

Mercy Is Strained, and Broken
Selling condos and souls at the VLT
by Suzi Steffen

As of the day this paper comes out, Glengarry Glen Ross has four more performances in a room that seats, at a squish, 75. If you like your theater full of energy, conflict, tension and irony, you should call right now and get one of those seats. With David Mamet’s scorching script, director Chris McVay’s passion for the piece and a collection of Eugene’s strongest actors, Glengarry is a triumph for the VLT.

Roma (Dan Pegoda) and Levene (Patrick Torelle). Photo: Richard Scheeland

The VLT warns people that the play is profane. True, and it’s one of most alive scripts out there, crackling with rage and bitterness and a special kind of office-driven testosterone. Yes, the entire cast is male. If you missed the movie and you’ve never seen the play, let me say that the bile, hatred, racism and sexism that spew from the mouths of the men in this play serve a purpose.

They’re scummy, almost middle-class, forever on the edge white guys who live like scurrying rodents when they’re not selling and like kings of a tiny, squalid country when they close a deal. The pressure on them makes them subhuman. Dave Ross (a strong Chris Pinto) desperately wants out from under the heel of demands from the larger corporate office because he’s always in second place. Office manager John Williamson (Mike Petersen, a bit of a weak link in this cast) tries to manipulate the sellers and doesn’t always understand the game but has a fierce protective instinct that serves him well. 

The blackboard in the office instructs the men, “Always Be Closing.” Richard Roma (Dan Pegoda) has dedicated himself to the work of relentless selling and thus stays atop the leaderboard. Pegoda usually plays complex characters with seeming ease, and he works Roma’s angles with the skill of a consummate seller — after all, what else is an actor? 

In the first act, there’s a superb scene of Roma zeroing in on a mark, the shy James Lingk (Mike Hawkins, whose restraint here serves him as well as his explosive anger in the recent Cottage Theatre production of A Streetcar Named Desire). That scene finds a second-act balance in the terrific moments Roma spends with his washed-up mentor, Shelley Levene (Patrick Torelle). Torelle’s propulsive performance brands the horror, humor and pity of his character in searing relief, and Torelle received well-deserved shouts and cheers at curtain call opening night. As the play climaxes, an unbearably tense dance among the characters played by Pegoda, Torelle and Hawkins culminates in a quiet explosion that drains the characters of hope — and eventually leads to a larger downfall.

Characters can become caricatures, especially when friends of actors come to the show, laugh outrageously and whisper things like, “Look what he’s doing!” I plead with those people to (to reflect the play) shut the fuck up and respect the rest of the audience and the actors working so hard to deliver this profanely beautiful holiday gift of a play.  

Glengarry Glen Ross runs through Dec. 14 at the VLT’s Stage Left. Tix at 344-7751.



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