There exists a certain subculture for whom the 1992 film Glengarry Glen Ross serves as a lingua fuckin' franca. No matter what your profession or walk of life, certain combinations of words from that immaculately cast movie double as a sort of semi-secret handshake, a shibboleth that instantly connects strangers who understand, from repeated viewings, that "the whole thing is the leads." Or that it's possible for one's balls to "feel like concrete." Or that we all share a common dream of one day storming out of an office screaming, "FUCK YOU! FUCK THE LOT OF YOU! FUCK YOU ALL!"
So it was exciting to hear that Al Pacino would be returning to Broadway this season for a revival coinciding with the 30th anniversary of David Mamet's salty play about shady real estate salesmen, which premiered in the early '80s at the Royal National Theatre in London (with the help of playwright Harold Pinter). In the film, Pacino plays the mystically charismatic Ricky Roma, a cunning shark surrounded by an office full of beached whales. The worst of the lot is poor Shelley "The Machine" Levene, an over-the-hill sad sack brought magnificently to life on screen by the late great Jack Lemmon.
Thirty years later, Pacino is attempting the role immortalized by Lemmon, and the talented Broadway star Bobby Cannavale, who was so brilliant in The Motherfucker with the Hat and Hurlyburly, takes over from Pacino as Roma. The rest of the actors in the ensemble aren't exactly lightweights either. You've got Richard Schiff of The West Wing fame cast as another crumbling salesman named George Aaronow (Alan Arkin brought him to vivid, stuttering life in the film), John C. McGingley (Scrubs) as the conniving Dave Moss, and Jeremy Shamos (Clybourne Park) as Roma's emasculated mark (that part was nailed by Jonathan Pryce in the movie). David Harbour brings up the rear with a generally stolid performance as exasperated office manager John Williamson. In the movie? Kevin Fucking Spacey.
You see the problem here, at least for one who's seen the screen adaptation more times than he can remember. Each and every performance in the current revival labors in the shadow of director James Foley's moody adaptation. It's difficult to watch Harbour screech at Schiff and not think of Spacey's venomous, tightly-coiled fusillades, or watch Cannavale recreate Roma's bravado and not glance over at Pacino, thirty years older and seemingly centuries removed from the mesmerizing Michael Corleone. You want Cannavale to draw you in with Roma's eccentric charm, but for the first time, at least in my experience, Cannavale seems stuck on a single note—here it's slick machismo with nothing beneath the surface.
As Levene, Pacino brings none of the desperate, pitiful urgency that lit up Lemmon's performance in the film. I'm not really sure what Pacino is going for here; his lines repeatedly trail off into a barely audible sing-song voice of regret, evoking the vocal patterns of a wistful old codger muttering to himself in a nursing home. That's fitting enough, I suppose, but Pacino seems unable or unwilling to unleash the serpentine dynamism that makes The Machine so fascinating. His performance, as always, is perfectly authentic, but inscrutable. Either Pacino hasn't found the handle here, or he's listlessly portraying a salesman who's lost the handle. Regardless, it comes off as unfocussed and entirely forgettable.
Daniel Sullivan, who orchestrated moments of spine-tingling menace with Pinter's The Homecoming several years ago on Broadway, seems at a loss here. The brief first act falls flatter than a salesman cold-calling a crack house. Set in banquettes in a depressing Chinese restaurant, we're introduced to the foul-mouthed and frustrated schemers, who bitch about their shitty prospects and float half-baked plans to steal the coveted "Glengarry leads" from the office safe. The blocking of Roma's madcap seduction scene, where he draws in his mark with an elegant stream-of-consciousness monologue that has nothing to do with real estate—until it does—was both parts both baffling and frustrating. Shamos spends the scene seated in a separate banquette with his back to Cannavale, and should get hazard pay for twisting his neck like that.
Luckily nobody's forced to tackle the motivational monologue made legend by Alec Baldwin—that blistering speech was written specifically for the film, and not integrated into this production, which has been running since October 19th. On November 5th, the producers announced that because of Hurricane Sandy, opening night would be pushed back December 8th. Whatever the reason, by now an air of weariness seems to have taken hold, and on Saturday night a third of the cast was on the verge of laryngitis—Pacino was hoarse, Cannavale was hoarse, Schiff was hoarse. They all sound like they need to take a break and go to lunch. And while there are a few laughs to be had along the way, you're better off investing your money in real estate... and a Netflix membership.