David Mamet and the “Glengarry Glen Ross” team had an opening-night party on Sunday without going through the bother of an opening night with those possibly mood- ruining reviews.
Mamet’s 1984 Pulitzer winner has been in previews since Oct. 19. A few performances were cancelled because of hurricane Sandy, but you do have to wonder: How much more fine-tuning do these folks have to do?
Critics were disinvited from the final previews and asked to wait an extra month before weighing in. So I bought an orchestra seat for $167.75.
This is not a new play undergoing revisions, but the second Broadway revival in recent years of Mamet’s comedy about cocky, desperate, smooth-talking, backstabbing Chicago confidence artists selling worthless Florida tracts to suckers.
Al Pacino earned an Oscar nomination for his performance in the 1992 film as Richard Roma, the young gun who leads the office in sales. Here, he’s playing Shelly Levene, who’s past his shelf life and has to scrounge for the “prime leads” that offer the best shots at a “close.”
The young stud Pacino once played is now in the competent hands of Bobby Cannavale. The show is staged by Daniel Sullivan, who directed Pacino most recently in his Broadway turn as Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice.”
“Glengarry” unfolds with a machine-gun American patois full of four-letter words, thoughts sheared off in mid-sentence and overlapping dialogue that require precision, thrust and grim pathos.
Sullivan’s staging is workmanlike, which is not good enough for a vehicle whose star is making $125,000-plus per week and whose tickets are selling in the non-preview stratosphere.
The 30-minute Act I comprises three short scenes in a Chinese restaurant (fortune-cookie sentiments are projected above the stage).
In the first, Shelly debases himself before a new manager (David Harbour) like an addict in need of a fix, which in this case would be a prime lead. Scrawny, bleakly wide-eyed and obsessively ruffling his cockscomb hair, Pacino is focused but low key; the effect is enervating.
Act II, about 50 minutes long, takes place in the office (the unflashy sets are by Eugene Lee) following a burglary. The centerpiece is a conversation between Shelly and Richard, mentor and mentee. It’s the evening’s high point -- as well as its undoing.
Cannavale’s entertainingly lizardlike Roma transmutes from suave unctuousness to foul-mouthed viper in the blink of an eye. Pacino makes a good foil and is winning when he first enters the room emitting the self-satisfied glow that comes with having made what he thinks is a big close.
But the alchemy that makes violent poetry of these speeches is missing from Sullivan’s production. Much of “Glengarry” sounds stilted and self-conscious. The off-putting result is that the play seems delivered in one voice -- the playwright’s -- and not those of the five central characters.
While there are a few sparks between Pacino and Cannavale, the pleasure in hearing a master stylist in peak form is only barely realized.
Through Jan. 20, 2013 at the Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 W. 45th St. Information: +1-212-239-6200; http://www.telecharge.com. Rating: **
Count on Christopher Durang and his ageless muse Sigourney Weaver to turn the vogue for Chekhov into a master class in comedy with the exhilaratingly funny “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” at Lincoln Center Theater.
Weaver plays Masha, a vain star of “Alien”-like movies who has come home to the cozy family farmhouse in Bucks County, Pennsylvania (enticingly designed by David Korins) with Spike (Billy Magnussen), her latest boy toy, in tow. Spike’s greatest achievement, besides his astonishingly gifted abs, is having come this close to a part on the sequel to “Entourage.”
Masha’s siblings Vanya (David Hyde Pierce) and Sonia (Kristine Nielsen) live there, lamenting their empty lives. There’s to be a costume party up the road at the Dorothy Parker House and Masha wants Vanya and Sonia to come as dwarfs to her Snow White.
Things get complicated when a pretty young neighbor (named Nina, it almost goes without saying, and played by Genevieve Angelson) catches randy Spike’s eye.
Durang (“Beyond Therapy,” “Why Torture Is Wrong and the People Who Love Them”) covers acres of comic territory that include Hyde Pierce’s off-the-rails lament for “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet,” Nielsen’s dead-on impersonation of Maggie Smith and a voodoo-proficient enchantress named Cassandra (Shalita Grant) given to dire predictions that have a way of coming half-true.
Such comedy is very difficult to sustain beyond sketch length, but Durang has the good fortune of a director, Nicholas Martin, with a perfect sense of timing and a touch that pushes everyone in this fine company just up to the too-much line without going over.
The payoff is the funniest show in town -- one that, like the master invoked, has an emotional kick that lifts it to a very high level.
At Lincoln Center Theater at the Mitzi E. Newhouse. Information: +1-212-239-6200; http://www.lct.org. Rating: ****
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(Jeremy Gerard is the chief U.S. drama critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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To contact the writer of this column: Jeremy Gerard in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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