The ABCs of cut-throat real estate in the darkly funny, testosterone-fuelled Glengarry Glen Ross

Derek Perks, Chris Coculuzzi & Frank De Francesco in Glengarry Glen Ross—photo by David Fitzpatrick

 

Amicus Productions wraps its 2016-17 season with its production of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, directed by Harvey Levkoe; and opening last night at the Papermill Theatre at Todmorden Mills.

Set in Chicago in the 1980s, Glengarry Glen Ross still resonates today with its condemnation of American business and the testosterone-filled culture that runs it. In a world where you eat what you kill, men are driven to desperate measures to survive, and thrive in a twisted hierarchy of “real men” and competition for big-ticket prizes.

The story opens at the local Chinese restaurant, where we get a lay of the land and a taste of its inhabitants. Veteran salesman Shelly “The Machine” Levine (Daryn DeWalt) has been in a serious slump and makes a desperate plea to office manager John Williamson (Chris Coculuzzi) to get some prime leads. The outraged Dave Moss (Neil Hicks) vents to his side-kick co-worker George Aaronow (Jerrold Karch), hatching a plan to take the good leads by force and put them to use for their own benefit. And the slick Richard Roma (Derek Perks) spots a mark in the shy, unassuming James Lingk (Abbas Hussain).

With Act Two opening on their pillaged office, Detective Baylen (Frank De Francesco) has taken up residence, interviewing each man one by one. Shelly seems to have emerged from his slump – and big time. And Roma is celebrating record sales, earning him a car. That all changes when a sheepish James arrives, putting that deal in jeopardy. Loyalties are tested and stand-offs get ferocious as things go to hell, and we get closer to discovering who broke in and stole the leads.

Nice work from the entire cast in this intense, hot-tempered and darkly funny Mamet classic. Stand-outs include DeWalt, who finds a great balance between flop-sweat desperation and cocky showmanship as Shelly Levine; it’s a roller coaster of extreme highs and lows as Shelly fights for his livelihood, vacillating between winning and losing. Perks is a charming scoundrel as Roma; a suave and seductive player, and a sharp marksman, Roma is nevertheless a thoughtful philosopher and a loyal guy—crediting Levine as his mentor. Just don’t get on his bad side.

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Neil Hicks, Daryn DeWalt & Derek Perks in Glengarry Glen Ross—photo by David Fitzpatrick

Coculuzzi gives us an icy, detached Williamson, who’s a bit of a cypher; the company ‘Yes man,’ Williamson’s a classic case of management who knows zero about the work he’s managing—and who deeply enjoys the withholding and proffering of power. And Karch gives a compellingly understated and comic performance as George Aaronow; a quiet, sweet guy, Aaronow may have been duped by Moss, but he knows how to look after himself.

Lie, cheat, steal. The ABCs of cut-throat real estate in the darkly funny, testosterone-fuelled Glengarry Glen Ross.

Glengarry Glen Ross continues at the Papermill Theatre until May 6; check here for ticket purchase/info or call 416-860-6176.

You can keep up with Amicus Productions on Twitter and Facebook.

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Liberty at any cost – hardened life choices in Toronto Irish Players’ Big Maggie

bigmaggie1Saw another marvelous Toronto Irish Players (TIP) production yesterday afternoon – this time, John B. Keane’s Big Maggie, directed by Harvey Levkoe, on now at Alumnae Theatre.

Big Maggie is set in 1960s rural Ireland, where recently widowed Maggie Polpin (Janice Hansen) is delighted at her newfound freedom from a philandering lout of a husband – and doesn’t care who knows it. Her four young adult children, each in various stages of grief, are disappointed when mum takes control of the family farm and general store, not receiving their expected share of the business – and are forced into choosing her way or the highway. For Maggie, her singular goal is to live free and secure, with no one to answer to or for but herself. And she is not above making some ruthless, calculated choices to get there.

Levkoe has a fine cast for Big Maggie, with some particular stand-outs. Janice Hansen gives an outstanding performance as Maggie, the complex family matriarch, full of anger, ambition, desire and unstoppable drive. Maggie has a sharp wit and can be darkly funny, but is also so very lonely – and by choice. Lovely turns from the actors playing the Polpin kids: Ben Clifford as the oldest brother Maurice, struggling to come to a compromise with his mother so he can have a life of his own; Kyrah Harder’s Gert, the youngest daughter and “good girl” of the family, dreams still intact, and longing for her mother’s love and approval; Conor Murphy as the impetuous firebrand youngest brother Mick; and Kate Sheridan as “bad girl” Katie, strong-willed and driven, but no match for her mother. Stephen Flett was a delight, providing comic relief as Byrne, the cemetery monument sculptor and hopeful bachelor. Damien Gulde was very effective as the charming playboy travelling sales rep Teddy; and Rebecca Liddiard gave a strong, layered performance as Maurice’s sweetheart, balancing the introvert/extrovert and mild/fierce sides of Mary.

Shouts to designer Wayne Cardinalli, and the construction and dressing teams, for a beautifully rendered, detailed and practical set that drew us into the Polpin’s world.

Liberty at any cost. In the end, Maggie, with her life-hardened choices, is as much a victim of time, place and circumstance as those around her are victims of her premeditated cruelty – especially her children.

Big Maggie continues its run on the Alumnae Theatre mainstage – until March 8. I strongly recommend you reserve in advance – this past weekend’s performances were sold out.

In the meantime, check out the Big Maggie backstage goings-on via interviews and production photos on the TIP blog, by writer/journalist/blogger Jennifer Hough.

Chillingly fascinating journey into man’s dark side – Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde

Last night, I headed to the Papermill Theatre to see Amicus Productions’ Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, adapted from the Robert Louis Stevenson novella by Jeffrey Hatcher and directed by Harvey Levkoe. Not to be confused with the musical version that has also been playing in Toronto recently.

Dr. Jekyll (Christopher Irving) is man driven to find a way through that door of the mind that leads to man’s baser, primal nature – the dark side of his personality – to study it in order to ultimately control it. What he doesn’t count on is his own dark side becoming physically manifest, to the point that a very different man emerges, bursting forth and wrecking havoc in the city, engaging in every form of debauchery – even to the point of torturing, maiming and murdering. And even when Jekyll realizes what is happening, he is somehow able to dissociate those evil actions – they were done by someone else: Mr. Hyde (played by a mini-ensemble of four multi-tasking actors: Chris Coculuzzi, Stephen Flett, Derek Perks and Jenn Sellers). As we are warned during a medical school lecture: Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Of course, it all ends very badly for the “good” doctor.

Wayne Cardinalli’s minimalist set design is incredibly effective. The central set piece, the rotating door – red on the side facing the street and steel blue grey on the inside – is a perfect realization of that door into the mind that Jekyll is so keen to unlock. Another key piece is a wooden table on castors: an examining table, displaying corpses for medical students in one scene, later becoming the bed at the hotel Jekyll checks into and where he meets Elizabeth (Stephanie Barone), the woman Hyde loves. Orderlies/servants played by assistant stage managers Kristin Myers and Jamie Zhuravel, along with the cast, shift the set pieces and furniture, changing the scenes with choreographed precision.

The use of four Hydes is particularly interesting – and the four actors, including one woman, each bring different colours to the character. Coculuzzi, the Hyde who falls in love with Elizabeth, is a wounded animal, instinct pushing him to lash out, but finding peace and calm in a woman’s love. Flett is menacing as the rough and course Hyde, while Perks finds his diabolical side and Sellers the smooth, charming tones. And Irving gets a chance to find the savagery in Jekyll, as the lines between him and Hyde blur near the end of the play and he can no longer distinguish between his “good” and “bad” self.

Levkoe has an excellent cast to take us on this trip, which also features Coculuzzi’s daughter Cabiria Aquarius as the Little Girl. Barone is brave and tender as Elizabeth, seeing beyond the surface of Hyde’s brutality into his pain, as well as Jekyll’s torment. Coculuzzi (also Dr. H.K. Lanyon) and Flett (as lawyer Gabriel Utterson) do a nice job of switching back and forth from their respective Hydes to supportive friends of Jekyll. Perks and Sellers do a great job of juggling mini-casts of their own, with Sellers playing male and female characters, including Jekyll’s servant Poole and one of the Hydes, and Perks shifting from arrogant surgeon Sir Danvers Carew to a wry-witted private investigator and Hyde, among others.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a chilling, compelling – at times darkly funny – journey into the dark side of the mind. As bad as you know it’s going to get, you can’t help but be fascinated by this story. And the four Hydes on the stage, shifting in and out from other characters, remind us of the potential for cruelty that lies within all of us.

You have a few more chances to see this – it runs until this Saturday (November 24), with matinée and evening performances on Saturday. Click here for more info: http://www.amicusproductions.ca/current_season.php#jekyll