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‘Glengarry Glen Ross': Were Critics Sold on Revival Starring Al Pacino?

"Glengarry Glen Ross" revival with Al Pacino leaves critics cold

"Glengarry Glen Ross," David Mamet's landmark depiction of avarice and capitalism's dehumanizing impact, may have lost some of the sizzle it enjoyed when it premiered on Broadway nearly three decades ago. Critics just poured cold water on a hot-ticket revival led by Al Pacino, with many complaining that the Oscar and Tony winner is miscast as down-on-his-heels salesman Shelly Levene.

Pacino played hot-shot real estate agent Ricky Roma in the 1992 film version of the play, earning an Academy Award nomination for his troubles. That part goes to Bobby Cannavale in the current incarnation of "Glengarry Glen Ross," and critics were more charitable towards his performance.

Even with tickets topping out at $377, sales for the play have been brisk, so it should be able to withstand some critical drubbing. Still, it's been a rough month for Mamet, whose new play "The Anarchist" closed after two weeks of release even with the combined star wattage of Debra Winger and Patti LuPone. Reviews for the drama were savage. 

Despite its Pulitzer Prize pedigree, "Glengarry Glen Ross" received a similar shellacking from many top theater critics. Perhaps the first sign of trouble should have been when the play's producers pushed back the official opening by a month, allowing the revival to extend its preview period and operate sans reviews.

Ben Brantley in the New York Times could not muster many positive things to say about the play, mourning that the "fight has gone out" of its central characters and faulting both Pacino and Cannavale for their work.

"The production’s strange combination of comic shtick and existential weariness makes it feel rather like a long-running sitcom being filmed before a live audience that knows its characters’ signature tics and flourishes by heart," Brantley wrote.

In the Telegraph, Sarah Crompton said this production of "Glengarry Glen Ross" is strangely static and fails as an examination of a deflated American dream.

"This is the first Glengarry Glen Ross I have ever seen which feels longer than its two-hour running time; its speed and rhythm vanish as each actor seems to be performing in a different play," Crompton wrote.

Far more generous was Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly, who agreed that Pacino was lackluster, but praised Cannavale and a cast that includes Richard Schiff of "The West Wing" (in his Broadway debut) and John C. McGinley of "Scrubs."

"The good news is that the rest of the cast — including John C. McGinley, Richard Schiff, David Harbour, and a hard-charging Bobby Cannavale as Roma, his hair slicked and his fingers stabbing the air — is aces," Schwarzbaum wrote.

"The bad news is that what Pacino does as Shelly — one assumes with the tacit agreement of director Daniel Sullivan — appears to be entirely up to Pacino's whim minute to minute. And the guy's got a lot of whims, some left over from the 2010 revival of The Merchant of Venice (also directed by Sullivan). And these actorly notions eff up the rest of the effin' ensemble as they sell sell sell the hell out of Mamet's prize real estate."

Chris Jones of The Chicago Tribune admired some aspects of the play, but ultimately judged the revival a failure.

He wrote "…this production, which features a simple but telling design by Eugene Lee, ultimately does not succeed pretty much for the same reasons that the last Broadway production of Mamet's "American Buffalo" did not work out. It is insufficiently real and specific. And, frankly, if you'll forgive the parochialism, it's insufficiently recognizable as set in Chicago."

In the Guardian, Alexis Soloski argues that Mamet's gem-like plotting and dialogue is unblemished by a less-than-inspired revival. The message of the play still endures, she contends, and Pacino is erratic, but not as bad as others think.

"While the spate of recent dramas and self-congratulatory newspaper editorials may have shaken confidence in the writer, Glengarry shows him at his best, a poet of bluster and flimflam, the bard of the blighted American male," Soloski wrote. "Complaining of bureaucracy, Roma protests: 'the world of clock-watchers, bureaucrats, officeholders. I swear it's not a world of men.' But that's precisely what Mamet shows us: masculinity in all its unsound, impotent, rageful wonder."

To be sure, some critics seemed to enjoy director Daniel Sullivan's lower-key take on Mamet's bristling and profane salesmen. Newsday's Linda Winer said the cast and production team had managed to strip away the play's flash to find something more genuine at the core of "Glengarry Glen Ross."

"The play, which runs less than two hours with an intermission, feels less furious than melancholy — and, yes, more thoughtful — this time around," Winer wrote.