“Glengarry Glen Ross” — Selling the Sure Thing



The “Glengarry Glen Ross” marquis at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre. Photo: Simone Scully

Award-winning actor Al Pacino returns to Broadway in the 30th anniversary production of David Mamet‘s play, “Glengarry Glen Ross,” with what Tony-nominated actor Jeremy Shamos called a “cast of thoroughbred actors.”

Beginning previews on Tuesday, October 16 at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre on 45th Street, this production will be the play’s third Broadway revival, one of ten Broadway revivals that audiences can see before the end of 2012.

“Revivals have always played a part [in] commercial theatre,” said Kent Gash, associate arts professor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, founding director of NYU’s New Studio on Broadway and former associate artistic director of The Alliance Theatre at the Woodruff, “[because] recognizable title[s] can often help pre-sale or build excitement and anticipation.”

A recognizable name doesn’t hurt, either.  However, unlike many film actors appearing in Broadway revivals, Al Pacino started his acting career on stage, debuting on Broadway in a 1969 production of “Does A Tiger Wear A Necktie.” In addition, he starred in an acclaimed production of “The Merchant of Venice” last year that moved from Shakespeare in the Park to the Broadhurst Theatre. Although he has been an Oscar-nominee eight times and won the Oscar for Best Actor for his performance in “Scent of a Woman,” Pacino said he finds himself drawn to the theater, which “satisfies something in me.”

“It’s a joy to be on any stage, anywhere, but Broadway in particular, because it’s my home,” he said at a recent press conference, “[and] when you’re away from the theater long enough, you feel the need to go back… Being on stage [is] my form of therapy, my way of getting through life.”

Cobina Gillitt, an associate professor at NYU Tisch School of the Arts who teaches theatre studies and dramaturgy, said, “The most successful productions on Broadway are generally those that fulfill audience expectations. Broadway audiences are most receptive to what is familiar and expected. Film stars are familiar [because] film doesn’t have the same geographical and temporal boundaries as theatre… A celebrity is familiar to non-theatre audiences, even non-American audiences. Casting film stars is a useful advertising strategy to bring in audiences that normally wouldn’t consider seeing a play on Broadway, much less spend that much money.”

Revivals of well-known plays are commonly produced for similar reasons, although “the revivals are usually re-mountings of dead playwrights,” said playwright and NYU Tisch professor Steven Drukman,

Winner of the 1984 Pulitzer Prize for drama, “Glengarry Glen Ross” also won the Laurence Olivier Award in 1983, the New York Drama Critics’ Circle in 1984 and a Tony Award in 2005. The play, about a cutthroat group of Chicago real-estate salesmen competing to win a sales contest, is known for its claustrophobic atmosphere, gratuitous language, and realistic portrayal of internal real estate politics, which Mamet experienced first-hand while working in a real estate office in Chicago in 1969. It was adapted for a 1992 film starring Pacino in an Oscar-nominated performance as Richard Roma. This time, Pacino will play the aging character of Shelly Levene, portrayed by actor Jack Lemmon in the film, who is desperate to recapture his past glory as a real estate agent.

Playing Pacino’s former role in this production, Bobby Cannavale, who starred in “The Motherf**ker with the Hat,” said that acting with the star is “a dream come true. I had this guy’s posters all over my wall.”

The entire cast expressed their excitement at working with Pacino.

“’Glengarry Glen Ross’ is the reason I was introduced to my hero,” said Richard Schiff, known for his role as Toby Ziegler on “The West Wing,” who makes his Broadway debut as George Aaronow, a salesman with low self-esteem. “It [is] mind-blowing to me.”

“It’s such an interesting time to be doing [“Glengarry Glen Ross”],” said Cannavale. “It was never done in New York during the Clinton years. It was done during the Bush administration and now it’s being done in tough times as well. I think the play will resonate a lot.”

“The action of the play remains the same, but we see it through a different prism each time we do it,” said director Daniel Sullivan, who has directed over 20 Broadway plays, including the recent productions of “The Columnist” and “Good People.”