by Brook Gardner-Durbin
Backstage at Bozeman’s downtown theater, behind the elaborate red and gold decor dividing the stage from the audience, something is rotten in the state of The Ellen. The Bozeman Actor’s Theatre cast and crew duck under heavy iron weights held aloft by fraying ropes as they prepare the stage, and pipes drip just out of sight of a seated audience, showing every one of their years. Duct tape is put to good use here and there and the props have been through who-knows-how-many previous productions.
“It looks so regal out here,” said Miriel Waldman, standing among the chairs. A junior in mathematics and chemical engineering, Waldman got involved with the production after enjoying an acting class last semester. “And then behind the curtain there’s nails, and mildew and …” she trailed off, shaking her head.
For another production, all the wear and tear may be a problem. For “Glengarry Glen Ross,” opening this weekend, it’s only fitting. The Pulitzer Prize-winning play, written in 1984, lifts the curtain on a rotten real estate office. It’s a tense, heavy drama about salesmen who have just been told at the end of the month all but the top two sellers will be fired. The pleasure for audience is watching the salesmen twist and squirm in response to the pressure.
And twist and squirm they do. There’s Richard Roma, the current top salesman, who’s been known to stretch the truth to close a sale and Shelly “The Machine” Levene, a has-been looking to close his first big sale in too long. George Aaronow has been a loser so long he’s forgotten what winning feels like but is still the only one in the office with a conscience, and Dave Moss is always hatching plans. Rounding out the cast is the office manager Williamson, James Lingk — a sucker’s sucker who hasn’t a bone in his back — and detective Baylen, played by Frank Wendt, a senior in business and economics.
“The characters are incredibly complex,” said Mark Kuntz, a MSU graduate. As the office manager Williamson, Kuntz finds himself both despised and desperately needed by the salesmen that surround him.
“It’s raw, it’s visceral and it’s really just a treat to act it,” Kuntz said of the play. “It’s a modern American classic.”
Among the public, “Glengarry Glen Ross” may be best known for Alec Baldwin’s famous “Coffee’s for Closers” speech, which Mamet added when writing the screenplay for the 1992 adaptation. The film-and-theatre types, however, invariably know the play and its writer for “Mamet-speak” — David Mamet’s signature dialogue style. Filled with interruptions, unfinished sentences and other quirks, Mamet’s dialogue is a delight to see performed.
“David Mamet is really purposeful; his dialogue is sparing,” said director Cara Wilder. “He writes with a lot of built in pauses … it’s almost like a piece of music.”
Wilder, an assistant teaching professor of acting at MSU, has also been the managing director of the Bozeman Actor’s Theatre since it was founded in 2009. Though she is an experienced actress, this is Wilder’s first foray into directing a full-length play.
“We’d been tossing the title around for a while,” Wilder explained. Thanks largely to the “Mamet-speak,” it’s an unusually difficult play for a first-time director, but Wilder knew what she was getting into: “That’s what I like about it,” she said, smiling.
“Glengarry Glen Ross” plays Friday, Sept. 25, Saturday, Sept. 26 and Thursday – Saturday, October 1 – 3, at 8 p.m. Sunday matinees are at 3 p.m. on Sept. 27 and Oct. 4.
Tickets start at $15 and are available at theellentheatre.com or by calling 585-5885.