a theatre, film & pop culture review
Congrats to those sharks of Chicago real estate! It’s been 30 years since Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize-winning speed-talky skewering of the American Dream premiered in London, and it’s as sharp and steely as ever. But though Daniel Sullivan’s production is straightforward, the edges are worn down and the frenetic energy is slowing seeping from the generally stellar cast.
John C. McGinley’s cutthroat Dave Moss is the standout: He’s the most nimble with the Mametspeak, thrashing about and spitting out the staccato barbs, brutally knocking out anyone who attempts to set foot in the verbal ring with him. He does a superb job steamrolling Richard Schiff’s George Aaronow, the overworked, office pushover with a seething conscience.
But the real sucker here is the one victim amidst all the lies, expletives, and scheming: As James Lingk, Jeremy Shamos is quiescent and spineless, softening his voice with just the hint of a tremble and retracting his body as though in a desperate effort to disappear into himself when confronted with over-the-top personalities like Bobby Cannavale’s Richard Roma. It’s a beautifully sad and subtle performance by one of our best stage actors working today.
As the young and super-aggressive hotshot, Cannavale is the quintessential slickster, all greased-back hair, silver suits and swagger. His ability to charm an audience — us and Shamos’s Lingk alike — is hypnotic, and it’s great fun to watch him swap stories and go head-to-head with that Ricky Roma of the past, Al Pacino.
Which is who you’re really curious about, right? Pacino was Oscar-nominated for his portrayal of Roma in the 1992 film (fun fact: he lost for this supporting role, but won for his leading role in the lesser Scent of a Woman that same year), but now he’s Shelly “The Machine” Levene (played by Jack Lemmon in the film), and there’s not a hint of The Machine about him. A one-time hard-hitting player, Levene is a deflated, desperate man grasping for one last great lead that’ll boost him back on top of his game. But Pacino, an ever-fascinating and watchable onstage presence, plays up the sad-sack meekness and never really hints at that dynamism of a not-so-long-ago powerhouse closer.
Diminutive in both stature and voice — thinner and quieter than the rest of his castmates’, he lacks a powerful resonance — his Levene defers to constant gesturing, playing the ham, not the has-been. There are moments that spark, but, as in his last Broadway performance which Sullivan also directed, this is the Al Pacino Show, and Al doesn’t conform to pace in this ensemble piece; he obliviously revels in his own wonky rhythm. Sadly, this could be at least partially due to the effects of getting older. Some critics noted a shakiness with lines, and at 72 years old, it wouldn’t be out of bounds to conjecture that his slower line readings are purposeful so as to maintain a grasp of Mamet’s notoriously snappy speech. (There was also a lot of brouhaha over production’s delay in opening: Was it really due to Hurricane Sandy? Or was it to give Pacino more time to master the Mametspeak?) Whatever the case, whenever Pacino enters, the pace goes off-kilter, and the production loses its necessary slice-and-dice speed.
But still, you can’t take your eyes off him.