Yes, 2014 marks the 30th anniversary of David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Glengarry Glen Ross. But Daniel Clancy, the co-producer and actor of local theater company DJCIII Productions, doesn’t count that particular hallmark as the impetus behind bringing the show to the Asheville Masonic Temple. The real reasons are much simpler.
“I’m just an actor who wanted to do this play,” Clancy says. “I never saw it on stage until last year. I actually went to New York and saw the production with Al Pacino. The show got panned by the New York Times, and it closed in a month. But I still loved it, and when I saw it on stage, I realized it was pretty feasible to do it in Asheville in a small space.” Glengarry Glen Ross is set to run Feb. 13-15 and 20-22.
“In acting circles, it’s very popular because David Mamet writes so much for the actor,” says director Jason Williams. “It’s modern, it’s kind of raw and it gives actors the ability to do things they can’t do in real life. They can exorcise those demons or have fun with it.”
The play covers two days in the lives of four desperate, amoral real estate agents and the lengths they’ll go — whether lying, cheating or stealing — to get ahead. But staging this tale of duplicity, malfeasance and “the failure of the American Dream,” as Williams puts it, has its share of unique challenges. Perhaps the biggest difficulty that Glengarry Glen Ross is best-known for its 1992 silver screen adaptation. Those looking for a simple rehash of the film are likely to be surprised: This is a different animal. “What a lot of people remember about the movie is the Alec Baldwin speech in the beginning,” Clancy says. “There are a lot of great lines that get repeated but are not actually in the play. Early on, we considered trying to get permission to use the Alec Baldwin speech. But the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to stay true to the original play, to do it the way that [Mamet] wrote it.”
According to Williams, none of the iconic roles belong to one actor. “This is a heavy ensemble,” he says. “It’ll be hard to compare with the movie, but a play is always different because of the feel of the audience and being able to interact and to feed off the energy.”
The Masonic Temple’s theater plays a role in that inherent interaction between the cast and viewers. “The space is odd because it’s laid out in a horseshoe,” says Williams. He explains that, traditionally, plays take place beyond the proscenium arch — the area surrounding the stage opening. That doesn’t work in the Masonic Temple, with its circular auditorium. If the performance was staged as usual, it would be hard to see, so Williams is setting the drama on the floor. “I learned that I like to bring things out into the audience,” he says.
When Clancy saw Glengarry Glen Ross in New York, it was in a big, beautiful theater on Broadway. “I was sitting way up in the balcony in the back, and it just didn’t have that energy,” he says. “This show, you’re going to be in that restaurant, in that office right with these guys, and I think it’s going to be so powerful. It’s the kind of show that lends itself to an intimate space like that.”
For Williams, presenting a production so filled with unscrupled characters and Mamet’s trademark clever, bang-bang dialogue works particularly well in a small area. “If someone asks, ‘Why should I come see this production if the movie’s on Netflix and it has Al Pacino?’ it’s just the intimacy and having the actors in front of you, and the energy,” Williams says. “There’s not much like a good live theater production. I don’t want to say it’s religious, but in a way it can be. People are living these heightened lives right in front of you. Hopefully, it’ll drag you in and make you feel something.”
what: Glengarry Glen Ross
where: Asheville Masonic Temple, brownpapertickets.com/event/550452
when: Thursday-Sunday, Feb. 13-15 and 20-22, at 8 p.m. $15 advance/$20 day of show/$22.50 for to tickets to the Valentine’s Day performance