The greatest strength of “Glengarry Glen Ross” is in the imperfections of everyday language.
The repetition, awkward pauses, verbal stumbling — all of those minor gaffes we trudge through daily as we attempt to communicate — are present in the script.
The Ephrata Performing Arts Center’s production of the show, directed by Michael Swanson, remains true to this defining feature. The production’s actors have clearly put in the work honing the craft of “Mamet-speak” — the true-to-life speech style named for the show’s creator, David Mamet.
All of the actors in the Ephrata production do this well. Some, however, are extraordinary.
“Glengarry Glen Ross” follows five real estate salesmen in the 1980s who take career competition to another level. In a struggle to stay on top of their colleagues in terms of sales, they manipulate each another. The play is funny, yet dark, served with a heaping dose of expletives and political incorrectness. It’s best to leave the little ones at home.
The cast is a masculine who’s who of local theater. Tim Riggs, recently praised for his striking portrayal of Merrick in “The Elephant Man,” is demure and complex as real estate office manager John Williamson. John Kleimo is charming and funny as the baffoonish, oftentimes pitiful George. But Sean Young, who plays the conniving, charismatic Richard Roma, is the show’s standout star. He’s absolutely captivating — explosive one moment and manipulative in a quiet “let-me-tell-you-what-you-really-want” manner the next.
Young’s mastering of “Mamet-speak” elevates his performance to another level. When his character tries to keep a sale from slipping between his fingers, the audience can see the fury in his eyes. He delivers Mamet’s lines with so much bravado and believability, all the while smacking a wad of gum.
While Young is entertaining enough on his own, the real magic happens when he’s paired with an actor who also has “Mamet-speak” down pat — Herb Stump, who plays the stubborn Dave Moss.
A particularly volatile scene in the second act shows these two actors at their finest.
They cut each other off without hesitation, and their escalating pitches create such a palpable tension that the audience cringed awaiting one to throw a solid punch at the other. (This moment never came — physically, at least.)
Stump’s tirade earned him a mid-scene round of applause from the audience at Thursday night’s premiere.
The flow of dialogue strengthened over the course of the show. Ken Seigh, who plays veteran salesman Shelly Levene, introduced the audience to “Mamet-speak” by serving as the resident chatterbox of the first scene. The first few minutes of Levene’s ramble felt a bit unnatural, but his speech flow felt more realistic as the show progressed.
While the excellent delivery of lines made up for this, the staging of the first act was a bit frustrating. Many audience members could only see one person’s face during scenes in a Chinese restaurant.
Either a stylistic choice or just a result of EPAC’s three-sided audience, the inability to see both actors’ reactions was frustrating. It was especially vexing when the characters were being introduced, because, naturally, one wants to see their faces to learn their names.
This is circumvented in the first scene when Williamson stands at Levene’s side to have a cigarette. While audience members seated in the middle stared at the back of his head for most of the first scene, they at least got a flash of his face toward the end. This wasn’t the case with the next two scenes.
This annoyance, however, was limited to the first act. The second act, which switches locations to a real estate office, is expertly staged. The characters’ placement and movement throughout the act is realistic and interesting, and the audience even gets a peek at what’s happening in another room.
“Glengarry Glen Ross” is an entertaining 105 minutes that moves so quickly, it leaves one wanting more. EPAC’s production is a can’t-miss show for lovers of words — especially the dirty ones.