DISCLAIMER: Having seen very few reviews on IA in recent months, I thought I'd give it a shot. I will be forever impressed with those people who can stand on stage before a room full of strangers and bare their collective souls for nothing more than applause and (sometimes) laughter. I have come to understand that often, those same people appreciate the specific, individualized feedback a review can provide. Though I see many of the productions in central Indiana each theatre season, I won't pretend to have the breadth of knowledge or experience as a Joe Boling or a Hope Baugh; as soon as these reviewers reclaim their rightful place as the gold standard for central Indiana theater reviewers, I'll gladly cede this role and return quietly to the shadows of the audience. Until then, please allow me to share with all of you a taste of my admiration for these brave and talented people.
Spotlight Players touts itself as "The Cultural Hotspot of Beech Grove." Spotlight is being too modest; "The Cultural Hotspot of Central Indiana" might be more appropriate.
A few seasons ago, Spotlight took a deliberate turn off the "standard Encore fare" highway, and it has never looked back. Ever since, Spotlight has eschewed the light-hearted romantic comedy or the oft-produced seat-fillers and, instead, has developed a reputation for selecting more challenging and provocative shows. (I believe this transition first occurred when Molly Bellner took the reins, but I can't be certain of that). As a happy byproduct of that decision, Spotlight regularly draws some of central Indiana's best actors to Beech Grove for productions you likely won't see elsewhere. Glengarry Glen Ross is a perfect example of what can happen when an exemplary cast sinks its teeth into a fantastic script.
At its core, David Mamet's script examines the cracks in the foundations of ego-driven, hyper-masculine characters as age, insecurity, desperation, and (eventually) failure seep into their collective experience. Set against the backdrop of the Chicago real estate market, a group of real estate hawkers are pitted against each other in a sales contest in which they compete for Cadillacs, bonuses, and better leads for more money. Some sink; some swim; some are driven to the brink; some are driven to each other's throats.
[For those of you (like me) familiar only with the movie, it is surprising to learn that certain iconic scenes, characters, and lines were crafted solely for the screenplay. Without the additional material, the play is actually quite brief (roughly 90 minutes).]
Mamet's dialogue is meant to be rapid-fire and abrasive -- kind of a modern, more natural take on the hard-boiled detective banter of the 1940s. (Think "The Postman Always Ring Twice" but set in a fraternity house locker room.) When done correctly, "Mamet-ese" can be mesmerizing in its own right, and several of Spotlight's performers are pitch-perfect in their delivery. The flip-side of pitch-perfect execution by some of your performers, though, is the danger of highlighting less-perfect execution by others; there are a few occasions in Glengarry where the audience can't help but notice the contrast between the more masterful Mamet-speakers and those who come tantalizingly close. Because of this, the nearly-imperceptible beats between lines that might otherwise go unnoticed in typical community theatre productions become glaring here. Sometimes those beats resulted from an actor groping for his next line; sometimes I think the actors simply were unwilling to stomp all over a fellow actor's lines. Simply put, Mamet scripts require flawless memory and worse manners.
[Of course, the fact that my only complaint about this production boils down to accusing certain actors of being "too good" should tell you everything you need to know about this show.]
Because he never falters or hesitates, Earl Campbell drives this show. Playing the top salesmen who seems to simultaneously delight in and hate the system in which he succeeds, Campbell brings equal parts fire and humor to the role of Richard Roma. Where a fellow castmate stumbles or paces a line incorrectly, the audience scarcely notices thanks to Campbell's gift for restoring pace. I've now seen Campbell in several shows throughout central Indiana, and I have come to expect great performances from him; his turn in Glengarry does not disappoint.
Likewise, Mike Harper and Jay Hemphill are equally impressive in their turns as the office hothead and his simpering sidekick. Harper does a great job reminding you of that guy you hated in high school who went on to open his own car dealership. Hemphill's character pushes and pulls against his co-worker's bravado, and he ends up turning in a terrific hand-wringing performance. Hemphill gets the last (or was it the next-to-last?) line of the play—a simple "I hate this job"—and he makes it echo in your head well into curtain call.
Combine all of this with above-average performances by most of the rest of the cast, an intriguing storyline, and fun set decoration, and Glengarry Glen Ross is easily one of the best productions you will see this theatre season. [Maybe I should start a rating system. What is peculiarly "Indianapolis"? 9 out of ten-derloins! 6 out of 7 race cars! 12 out of 13 injured quarterbacks!]
But returning to the issue of show selection: to be fair, in some cities Glengarry Glen Ross might not be considered cutting edge; any play made into an Al Pacino-Jack Lemmon flick isn't exactly envelope-pushing. But for any community theater in central Indiana -- theatres which compete with each other over a relatively shallow pool of male performers and generate most of their revenue from increasingly white-haired audiences -- an all-male production with more F-words than lighting cues is a bit of risk. For now, it may be hard risk for Spotlight to stomach; I seldom see more than 15-20 people at a Spotlight production. But I am hopeful that, eventually, word will make it to those theatergoers who tend to favor Theater on the Square or Phoenix that something interesting is happening in Beech Grove. When that happens, I'm convinced that Spotlight will reap the benefits of having taken risks, and it will be able to revel in a new audience base that will sustain Spotlight for decades to come.