Women wear the pants in 'Glengarry Glen Ross' at the Play Ground
They are in the cutthroat world of sales, a place where the top dog wins a new Cadillac and the guy in third place gets fired. They are a mix of expletive-filled bravado and poorly masked self-doubt.
They spit innuendos and talk about having testicles filled with concrete -- except there isn't a testicle in this bunch.
Next up for the Women in Theatre series: An all-female cast of the traditionally male-centric play "Glengarry Glen Ross" by David Mamet. Where the movie version starred actors such as Al Pacino and Jack Lemmon, this one has actors Priscilla McRoberts and Mary Lee in the corresponding roles.
The Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning play, which premiered in 1982, is a two-act show about real-estate salesmen in Chicago.
Act One: The crew gathers in a Chinese restaurant where one salesman tries to coax the office manager into passing along some big-money sales leads. Two other salesmen plot a burglary where they will steal the sales leads and sell them to a rival company.
Act Two: The Glengarry Glen Ross crew is back in the freshly robbed office, but business carries on as close to usual as can be expected without telephones -- which also have been stolen. There is plenty of wheeling and dealing and cajoling and cajones.
"Glengarry Glen Ross," directed by Lawrence Lee, opens at 7:30 p.m. today at the Play Ground.
On the women
McRoberts saw "Glengarry Glen Ross" performed about 20 years ago in Boston and enjoyed it, but said she wondered at the time -- and plenty of times since -- "Why can't it be women? To hear these words come out of women toward women would be so interesting," she said before a recent rehearsal.
This idea isn't unique to McRoberts. It hasn't been done often, but it has been done. A Chicago theater staged a mixed-gender production in 2008, with a couple of women and a couple of men in the main roles. A theater in Orange County produced simultaneously an all-male version and an all-female version of the show in 2009.
While the Mamet camp doesn't stipulate that rights to the play are contingent on men playing men, it does insist that the play remain unchanged, according to WIT chairwoman Kate Horvath. This means that Laura Westerberg's character will remain George Aaranow -- not Georgette. She, and the other actors, always will be referred to as "he." However, the cast will be dressed in women's clothing.
"How much do we pay attention to pronouns?" Horvath asked. "How much does that matter to interpretation?"
Director Lawrence Lee said some of the lines take on new meaning in the context of an all-female cast.
"They come to the foreground because they are more ironic when it's women saying it to women instead of men saying it to men," he said. "The question starting this process was: 'If this car has a tank filled with testosterone, can it run on estrogen? Can we do this as women and not women mimicking behavior?' That brings up: 'What is feminine, what is masculine? Are women in the workplace the same as men in the workplace?' There are all these questions.
"We don't ask the questions in the show. This is not a graduate level women's study program."
How to watch 'Glengarry'
Renegade Comedy Theater produced the show in 2003 with veteran actors John Schmidt, Jack Setterlund and Jody Kujawa in the cast.
"It's a show that men want to act in, and we've absconded with the show," McRoberts said.
Horvath said she has had a few conversations with men in the theater community who have asked why the WIT series selected this specific play.
"There is a lot of great women's theater out there," Horvath said. "I don't resent the question at all. I love to talk about it. I don't feel that women's theater should be put in a box. Theater is theater. I want (audiences) to see it however they choose to see it. I think people will see the statement: A traditional male show played by very powerful women."
Others, she said, will just see it as a great show.
"There's a lot of debate over whether (Mamet) is a misogynist," Horvath said. "Can his work transcend gender? I personally am a fan of his work. I think the women cast in this production can bring as much truth and machismo to the production as men could."
McRoberts said this production is in line with a famous quote from Bertolt Brecht:
"Art is not a mirror with which to reflect reality, but a hammer with which to shape it."
Go see it
What: "Glengarry Glen Ross," by David Mamet, directed by Lawrence Lee
When: Opens 7:30 p.m. today; runs Thursday-Saturday through Nov. 3
Where: Play Ground, 11 E. Superior St.
Tickets: $15 adults, $10 students; available at duluthplayground.org or at the door
Warning: Lots of swearing in this one