Outside of Actors' Guild of Lexington's new theater in South Elkhorn Village, strains of a 1980s Cindy Lauper tune wafted from the speakers.
"Money changes everything," she sang, and it was a fitting summary of one of the themes of AGL's second play in its 27th season, Glengarry Glen Ross, David Mamet's 1982 hit about a group of Chicago real estate salesmen and the desperate lengths they will go to close a sale.
Director Bob Singleton tapped some of Lexington's best talent to form a tight ensemble of veteran actors who effectively demonstrate that, although their characters are flawed, they are caught in the greedy grind of a cruel economy and are just trying to put food on the table.
Potent performances and Singleton's focused vision of power exchanges delivered at a clipping pace are the hallmarks of this show, a dramatic success despite the occasional technical hiccup.
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The ensemble meshes well, with some actors occasionally (and enjoyably) competing for the spotlight in a bit of one-upmanship not unlike their characters. The success of the production hinges on their ability to anchor Mamet's rapid-fire profanity and half-uttered lines in the work's most disturbing emotional truths as revealed in exchanges that range from subtle threats to outright blackmail, and from vitriolic jags to deflated victimization.
In Singleton's vision, it is this teeter-totter swapping of power and money among the characters that drives the dramatic tension and lends a uniquely American pathos to Mamet's overall theme: In America, money can make or break a person right down to the core of his soul.
The moments when a character hangs between devastation and redemption are the evening's most satisfying scenes. When hot-shot young salesman Richard Roma (Evan Bergman, charismatically slick) is swindling the naïve potential buyer Lingk (played with palpable, defeated turmoil by Graeme Hart), his desperation to close the sale kicks into ludicrous gear, matched only by Lingk's futile attempts to back out. Lingk's impotent admission that it is his wife, not him, who has the financial power is one of the show's a-ha moments.
Robert Parks Johnson's character, Shelley Levene, the past-his-prime, hanging-by-a-thread salesman desperate for leads, in a bout of unethical professional solidarity, plays along with an enormous tall tale, the two salesmen nearly reeling Lingk back into the deal before their efforts are derailed.
The show's pacing never threatens to drag; in fact, it might take a few minutes for Southern ears to home in on Mamet's fast-paced Chicagoisms.
The audience's ability to focus was rattled early in the first act of Thursday's opening-night performance, when a key set piece, a wall at a Chinese restaurant, wobbled enough to elicit gasps from the risers. For a minute, it seemed that the show might literally crash before it got on its feet, but Johnson and Timothy Hull reacted with some quick thinking and secured the set piece. The show continued without incident.
With a slew of nuanced performances and zigzagging moments of power trades, Glengarry Glen Ross does what it is supposed to do: make the audience think and feel about a topic relevant to their lives. Although the play is set in the greed-driven '80s, one cannot help but draw links to the contemporary economic crunch and whether Mamet's cutthroat truths linger today.