‘Glengarry Glen Ross’: Al Pacino switches roles

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Supposedly, Helen Hayes once said that an actor should never spend too much time worrrying about where their name appears on a marquee or in advertisements — i.e. billing — because “the audience decides that on their way out of the theater.”

Al Pacino’s name is the only one over the title of the new Broadway production of “Glengarry Glen Ross” but it seems likely that most of the people coming out of the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre will be talking about Bobby Cannavale.

The production was mounted on the strength of Pacino’s name, but rather than play one of his characteristically active, powerful men, he plays the weakest of the salesman in David Mamet’s brutal view of a few days in the lives of a bunch of Chicago real estate salesmen.

Since Pacino was one of the most electrifying elements of the film version of “Glengarry Glen Ross” — as ace salesman Ricky Roma — it is slightly disconcerting to see him play the walloped Shelly “The Machine” Levene who is clearly on his way out (it’s the part that Jack Lemmon played so well in the film).

It’s daring of Pacino to come back to Broadway in a piece of material he did on screen, but in a different role. In many ways he is there to pass the baton to Bobby Cannavale who has taken on the role of Roma with great energy and explosively profane humor.

Cannavale is becoming a great stage actor — in the past few seasons he has given dynamite performances in “The M———-r with the Hat,” “Mauritius” and “Hurlyburly.” And what a gutsy move for a younger actor to assume the role of Roma with Pacino on the same stage watching his every move.

In one of the high points of “Glengarry Glen Ross” Ricky enlists Shelly’s aid to stop a poor sap of a client, James Lingk (Jeremy Shamos), whose wife is making him back out of a property sale.

Shelly pretends to be an important executive at American Express who has done lots of business with Ricky, but who needs a lift to the airport right away (the two salesman improvise a spiel that they hope will get them out of the office before James can cancel his order).

We see the skill of the two salesmen — and Ricky’s respect for his mentor — played out in one of the funniest and most anxious scenes Mamet has ever written.

To watch Pacino, in effect, do Jack Lemmon and Cannavale do Pacino is strange but wonderful, too. This is stage-acting teamwork of a very high order.

Director Daniel Sullivan has cast the other parts well, with John C. McGinley delivering terrific work as the hateful Dave Moss and David Harbour playing the hell out of the most thankless role in the play, office manager John Williamson, who is the object of all the salesman’s contempt.

The reviews for this staging of “Glengarry Glen Ross” have been lukewarm which is probably due more to overfamiliarity with this frequently produced piece of material than the quality of the production.

Joe Meyers

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