Theater Reviews



Macha Theatre, West Hollywood
Through May 25

When the WGA strike looked hopeless this year, actor David Lipper realized this was the time to realize his dream to get back to the theater and produce an important work by one of his favorite playwrights. He called friends who agreed to participate and plunged into becoming a producer.

The result at the intimate 99-seat Macha Theatre in West Hollywood is an invigorating performance of David Mamet's iconic Pulitzer Prize winner from 1984 about human behavior when it is corrupted by capitalism as embodied in the real estate industry.

Together, the outstanding cast and director bring an illuminating amount of warmth to the characters without sacrificing the sensual pleasures of Mamet's short-circuited language rhythms. Instead, there is a strong sense that those rhythms work best when they drive the story and keep the audience connected.

The truth is that, a quarter-century after its premiere, Mamet's hate-filled language is no longer shocking, nor are the crooks, scam artists and other losers who populate the play. What once was seedy and dirty now is merely unkempt; what once was visceral and life-shattering now is merely inconveniencing.

In fact, this production, with its less than usually marginalized warmth and humanity, makes a strong case that Mamet actually loves these unhappy, forgotten people, these lost men living on the edge of disaster and insanity, as if the play were a paean to male anger.

Most impressively, the ensemble work -- which first-time L.A. director Seth Howard and the cast pull with the dazzling precision and comic impact of a Mozart opera -- provides each of the actors, with one exception, with a secure framework in which to quickly find their comfort zone for a series of finely honed, clearly personal interpretations.

William Russ' Shelly Levene is simultaneously suave and desperate, surprisingly naturalistic and just on the verge of being authentic, even sympathetic -- just as a one-time super-salesperson should be. Lipper's Dave Moss has the right blend of hard-edged cynicism and relentless self-pity that explains how he is willing to bludgeon his colleagues when conning doesn't work. Ian Gomez's befuddled George Aranow struggles against the terrible dimensions of his apparent fate with occasional redeeming touches of dignity. David Lascher's uptight, well-judged John Williamson at the end savors his little triumph over Shelly with a smile that even a mother couldn't love.

Only the intentionally confusing opening soliloquy by Anson Mount's Ricky Roma, though brilliant in spots, feels unfocused, his vibrant physicality hampered by having to stay seated for basically the entire scene. His work in Act II, moving around the stage like a big, seductive cat, nearly steals the show.

The opening performance benefited the Steven Spielberg-founded Shoah Foundation at USC. After the performance, Lipper, who lost most of his family in the Holocaust, announced that he was matching the amount raised.

Produced by Northern Prods. by special arrangement with Samuel French, in association with Macha Theatre/Films
Playwright: David Mamet
Director: Seth Howard
Produced by: David Lipper and Christine Lynne
Shelly Levene: William Russ
Richard Roma: Anson Mount
George Aranow: Ian Gomez
Dave Moss: David Lipper
John Williamson: David Lascher
James Lingk: Michael Monks
Baylen: Kevin Benton
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