What’s driving theatregoers off the fiscal cliff? What does Glengarry have that every other Broadway show that hasn’t recouped this slumbering season lacks? (As I predicted, the no-account Dead Accounts with Katie Holmes will close Jan. 6, well before scheduled.) In a word: Al.
And not “weird” Al, the Pacino who has spent most of his distinguished, off-and-on theatre career in unembraceable plays by Wilde, O’Neill, and Shakespeare. (Salome, which had a Broadway run about a decade ago, was wack.) No, this is Al in something that audiences will pay $300 a pop to see–him, live, in a production of the play whose 1992 film version netted him an Oscar nomination.
And, boy, does he give us something to see. This isn’t something he’s been obsessing over for decades, like Richard III (the subject of his thoughtful 1996 film Looking for Richard) or Ira Lewis’ Chinese Coffee. This one’s for us, so he gives us the full Al–long pauses, in search of laughs that aren’t in the text. Strange line readings. Hair ruffling. Business. It’s a heckuva show, as if he were on exhibit.
But he’s not. He’s in a play, and off on a desert island within it, as if the director, the distinguished Daniel Sullivan, was obliged to conjure an invisible force field around him. The gimmick here is that instead of playing Roma, the master seducer among Mamet’s motley collection of salesman, Pacino is now playing the down-and-out Levene. It should work: at 72, Pacino is five years older than Jack Lemmon when he played the part so memorably in the film. And Al can play broken-down, bedraggled; see him in Donnie Brasco (1997), one of his finest movie roles. With his star wattage cranked up to 11, however, he’s too electric for Levene, too “on.” He goes for the Cadillac and not the steak knives, and it’s a miscalculation.
The rest of the show? OK. With everything in proper balance, the 2005 revival, with Alan Alda as Levene, won a Tony, and another for Liev Schreiber’s Roma. Giving a fun, shark-like performance, the excellent Bobby Cannavale may in the running for his Roma, though I’m more interested in seeing what he comes up with for the spring revival of Clifford Odets’ never-exhumed The Big Knife. Doing what they need to do are the braying John C. McGinley (Moss), the rabbity Richard Schiff (Aaronow), and the scared Jeremy Shamos (Lingk). The most interesting choice is made by David Harbour, as the office manager, Williamson. In the movie Kevin Spacey plays him as a worm turning; Harbour is instead conscience-stricken as he seals Levene’s fate. He needn’t have been–Al Pacino, one of our greatest actors through thick and thin, is guilty of overacting. By the time Glengarry Glen Ross closes on Jan. 20, I can imagine him letting loose a “hoo-ah!” or two, calling Cannavale “Fredo,” or grabbing Harbour by the lapels and screaming “say hello to my little friend!”