Double Your Mamet at Roundhouse and Theater J
The Round House Theatre in Bethesda, Md., isn’t a huge, cavernous space. It’s both modern and inviting, a theatre with a long history—up on the lobby wall is a big poster of Ed Gero as Richard Nixon.
Inside the theater last week, actors were starting to come in, preparing—opening night at that point was only a few days away on Feb. 11—to enter the stream of David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross”, Mamet’s classic play about real estate agents on the make, battling it out in a small company, lying, cheating, thieving, getting ahead and falling behind.
“Glengarry Glen Ross” is early and top drawer Mamet—he won a Pulitzer Prize for it in 1984. These days, Mamet would appear to be everywhere, certainly in Washington where Theater J is doing “Race.” Round House and Theater J are working together to sponsor discussions on both plays. In addition, “Race”, will be a critical part of “Race in America: Where Are We Now?”, a Presidents’ Day Weekend (Feb. 16-17) symposium of film, theater and discussion sponsored by the Washington, D.C., Jewish Community Center. Mamet is a fluid playwright, known for pungent dialogue, plays actors lived to perform in. He never stands still and has moved from outspoken liberalism to outspoken quasi-conservative, most recently in a controversial Newsweek article defending 2nd amendment gun rights.
“I don’t worry about Mamet on gun control,” Mitchell Hebert, a veteran and lauded Washington actor said. He’s directing the Roundhouse production of “Glengarry Glen Ross”. “We’re dealing with a classic play by Mamet, a play about the American dream, certain kinds of people who talk a certain way. The speech rhythms of his dialogue, actors sometimes can get caught in them, you see that in some of his films. It’s a realistic play, but it’s not necessarily just a play about real estate agents. It’s probably not Washington Fine Properties or Long and Foster.”
Hebert is an actor of course and when an actor becomes the director, well, as he says, “that can get tricky.” “It may be a little awkward at first, but on the other hand, they know that I know what they’re dealing with, the process, how to get where you want to go, and I’m the director, yes, but I can help. Plus, I know them, I’ve worked with them. We know each other.”
Levine this time around at Round House is played by Rick Foucheux, who’s worked on most of Washington’s major stages (he was Willy Lohman in Arena’s “Death of a Salesman”, he appeared in the “The Government Inspector” at the Shakespeare Theatre Company. “I think I may have been a little too young for Willy,” he said (I would beg to differ). “But you know, Mamet is right up there, in my mind with the great American playwrights—O’Neill, Williams, Miller---and Mamet. They’re uniquely American but translates universally. “Glenngary” is an American classic, along with “American Buffalo”, which somebody once called a play about three idiots. It’s the language. It’s the words. It’s full of ellipses.”
In the theater, Hebert operates from the aisles and the seats and a table which has an appealing untouched box of donuts on it. The stage is two- sets—the real estate office where a blackboard announces the standings in the sales race with Roma holding a big lead, and a sign for a Chinese restaurant. We’re looking at a section in which Roma—played with a enveloping, fast bravado by dark-haired Alexander Strain—is bragging a little until one of his clients-whom Roma has talked into buying an expensive plot of land—is outside the dour. Roma enlists Levine to help him evade the client, by pretending to be a big shot that he has to take to the airport. It’s like a game of two-card monte in follow-up exhibit in the near future.”
Hebert makes suggestions—without seeming to he brings the three actors closer together until they’re practically nose to nose where once they were in different parts of the set. It’s a process, change, repeat, louder, softer, less, more, the lines repeated, but the movements different, the sound a little more, a little less and you can see the bit coming together seamless. It’s a process, or, as Hebert says at one point, “This the work we do, gentlemen”.
Mamet, over the years, has had many concerns, and variations on a theme of work, American dreaming and the social quilt getting frayed. If “Glengarry” and “Buffalo” are about people on the borderlines and edges of the dream, later plays—excepting of course “Speed the Plow”, which is about dreamland itself, Hollywood (as is “Bambi Meets Godzilla”), then Mamet the latter-day not-saint is concerned with what makes us itch and argue and fight and hate. So we have “Oleana” which was a searing he-said-she-said battle between a female student and her professor, and “Race”, which examines the legal system and race and in which a wealthy white man is charged with raping a black woman.
“Glengarry Glen Ross” runs at the Round House Theatre through March 3. “Race” will be performed at Theater J through March 17.