Glengarry Glenn Ross As Thrilling As A Basque Ball GameSaturday, November 22, 2008
For a child, parents’ warning is like a rose blooming in the brain; it opens with difficulty and fades quickly.
Galileo Galilei, Berchtolt Brecht
Last night John Lekich and I went to see the Main Street Production of David Mamet's play Glengarry Glen Ross at the Little Mountain Studio on East 26 Avenue at Main Street. The experience was so intense that when we had a coffee at the nearby coffee shop, The Grind I was just about commanded by Lekich,"You must blog this." My retort, "I only have a picture of actor Bill Dow that I took some years ago in a trio with Lois Anderson (centre) and Sheelah Megill (right). Lekich looked at me and said, "So what?"
The intensity of this production, besides a stellar cast including my fave Bill Dow playing Shelley "The Machine" Levene, was because we the audience weren't watching a play on a stage. We were in the stage watching the performance about a meter or two away from the actors. In the second act the chairs are re-configured and the audience surrounds an office situation. The swearing, the yelling the slamming of doors, all up front, made me forget I was watching a play. I was watching a real life drama involving men with questionable ethics or perhaps with no ethics.
I told Lekich that my first play (I forget the circumstances and obviously my parents gave me no choice on going or not going) was Bertolt Brecht's Galileo Galilei performed in Spanish in a Buenos Aires theatre-in-the-round configuration sometime in 1952 when I was 10. I will never forget the immediacy of seeing people talking there in front of me when my previous experience came only from movies. There was that visceral feeling all over again at last night's Glengarry Glen Ross.
Around 1960 when I was officially an adult in Mexico City (I was 18) I was able to go to the Frontón Mexico (minors were not allowed because the frontón is a betting game) to see mostly Basque pelotaris play the super exciting juego de pelota (ball game) or frontón. I remember in particular a player called Chicuri and the sole Mexican who liked Chicuri was considered a fenómeno (great player). The Mexican was a short and very quick man called Rafael Solana whose other talent of Formula 1 racing finally killed him. The form of frontón that I liked so much is usually called jai alai in North America. Jai alai in euskera (the language of the Basques) means "the happy game".
It is played with a basket called zesta-punta. This is supposed to be the fastest game in the world as the pelota (ball, handmade of virgin rubber, layered with nylon thread and two goatskin covers. Slightly smaller than a baseball and livelier than a golf ball, the pelota weighs about 4½ ounces.) has been clocked at over 300kph and can shatter bulletproof glass.
Watching my favourite pelotaris play the game was a thrill that has rareley been equalled. I get ráfagas (a lovely Spanish word that means flash or streak) of this thrill when I listen to solos by Marc Destrubé or a rose super-performs in my garden, the bloom drawing my attention with its perfection of shape and scent. I had several ráfagas of this thrill watching the virtuoso performance of the all-male cast last night of Glengarry Glenn Ross and in particular that of Bill Daw and of Alex Ferguson playing Richard (Ricky) Roma. The latter could be an inspirational speaker at a $500 a plate dinner. He was that convincing and smooth. Bill Daw with the simple movement of his semi-closed eyes or the raising of an eybrow was triumphant one instant and defeated in the next. Watching Dow was like watching Chicuri or Solana gather the ball with their cesta and hurling it at the frontón (wall) with that dizzying speed that thrilled me so many years ago.
If I didn't get 100% satisfaction at the play it had all to do with the fact that I don't work from nine to five from Monday to Friday. If this were the case, after a frustrating hard week of the office, Glengary Glenn Ross, much like Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs, is the perfect play to see on a Friday night. It was funny too. We were sitting next to Vancouver Sun theatre reviewer Peter Birnie. The three of us seemed to laugh in unison. What fun to have fun!