PTD Productions takes the challenge With David Mamet's language-rich “Glengarry Glen Ross”


Jacob Williams-Justin and Rick Sperling wear suits and sit at a table in PTD Productions' "Glengarry Glen Ross."

Jacob Williams-Justin and Rick Sperling perform as John Williamson and Shelley Levene in PTD Productions' Glengarry Glen Ross at Ypsilanti's Riverside Arts Center. Photo taken from PTD Productions' Facebook page.

David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Glengarry Glen Ross is about double-dealing, backstabbing, power plays, American striving, and the rage of real estate salesmen in a heartless Chicago, circa 1980s. 

It’s also about language—Mamet’s sharp, snappy, multi-layered, and riveting symphony of words. They call it “Mamet-speak,” a mastery of street language, the language of the locker room, the real estate office, the street, and a perfect voice for the raging anger and dashed hopes of his characters.

It’s not an easy language to master. PTD Productions has taken the challenge in a lively production of Glengarry Glen Ross under the direction of Liz Greaves-Hoxsie. 

The first act is set in a Chinese restaurant near the real estate office. It’s a set of three one-sided dialogues each fueled by alcohol and grievance. 

Shelley Levene used to be a top seller, but lately, he hasn’t been getting good leads. He’s feeling his age as he rants, pleads, and grovels at the young, always-calculating office manager John Williamson played by Jacob Williams-Justin, who passes out the leads and despises the aging Levene. This is a verbal battle, and the manager is short-tempered and dismissive. Shelley Levene is a tornado of grievance.

Rick Sperling gives an outstanding performance as Levene. He yells, he gestures, he sweats. He embraces Mamet’s language as his Levene moves from supplication to the young hotshot to lecturing on how long he’s been a top seller to fierce anger, a symphony of sound. In act two, Sperling shows another side of Levene when he thinks he’s back in the business. Sperling dances, roars, and shares his newfound love of life, for a while.

The next twosome is Dave Moss, a nasty piece of work who’s got a plan to put the manager in his place if he can get the nervous, older, and timid George Aaronow to do the dirty work. Ken MacGregor plays Moss who engages in a verbal cat-and-mouse game, not committing himself too much or too early. Jay Fischer plays George. Through the conversation, George picks up on Moss’s complaints to the point where they speak in unison, a kind of harmony.

The last two are Richard "Ricky" Roma, the top salesman in the office and in the running for a Cadillac, a prize to the top seller in a company contest. Todd St. George plays the slick, cynical, and untrustworthy but ingratiating Ricky. While sharing his philosophy of life (dog-eat-dog, get-it-while-you-can), he spots another sucker at a table played by James Lingk and lets him in on a “sweet deal” for an undeveloped property in Florida. 

The second act is set in the real estate office. A break-in at the office is an opportunity for finger-pointing and taking advantage of a shifting situation. Mamet has an excellent ear for the calculations each person has to make to outdo the others in the office. 

The battle between Shelley and the office manager becomes a game of who can outmaneuver who. Sperling gets to create a fully-rounded character. His elation about making a big sale, his pirouettes across the disrupted office, and his bragging about his mastery of the business are presented with a dignity that is funny, proud, and complicated. Williams-Justin gets more to say in the second act, and he plays the office manager slyly, like a master poker player who believes that he has better cards.

St. George is the ultimate playmaker. His Ricky is smooth, your best friend, and always on your side until he isn’t. St. George plays Ricky not as a tough guy but rather as a charmer who can sell anything to anybody.

The small stage and the simple sets are appropriately claustrophobic. The important thing here is the language—raw, vulgar, and enraged. Greaves-Hoxsie has taken the challenge and her cast does a good job. In her director’s note, she writes that she wasn’t too sure about doing the show, thinking it was too misogynistic but she writes, “Yet, how can anyone deny the beauty and the propulsive force of the dialogue?”

Indeed, you can’t. 

Hugh Gallagher has written theater and film reviews over a 40-year newspaper career and was most recently the managing editor of the Observer & Eccentric Newspapers in suburban Detroit.

David Mamet’s "Glengarry Glen Ross" runs May 10-12 and May 15-18 at the Riverside Arts Center, 76 N. Huron St., Ypsilanti. For tickets call (734) 483-7345, or email