At STAGEStheatre’s production of Glengarry Glen Ross, we’ll find out if a group of actresses can close the leads they’re given
By now, the myth of women as the “fairer sex” has been pretty much debunked. Anyone who looks inside a women’s restroom at a busy bar at the end of the night will instantly recognize that the ladies possess their fair share of snips and snails and puppy-dog tails.
Generally speaking, though, it’s a safe bet that, left to their own devices in the same environment and confronted with similar goals, a group of women are going to be a bit more civil than a group of men. Women may traffic in coarseness, vulgarity and even violence when need be, but it doesn’t seem as common a currency among them as it is for men.
In short, while women may wallow in the mud, they’re not born pigs like men. Which is why dropping a group of women into the testosterone-steeped world of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glenn Ross is so intriguing.
Director Gary Krinke, not content with just staging a traditional all-male cast of Mamet’s intricately composed play of verbal chaos, opted for two casts for the play’s run at STAGEStheatre: one all-male, the other with women in the four main roles.
Cross-gender casting isn’t that unusual, but casting women in a play such as Glengarry Glenn Ross definitely breaks type. Mamet’s script doesn’t just specifically call for men; it’s fueled by traits commonly associated with the Y chromosome: competition, dominance, aggression. While no punches are thrown, its use of words as weapons makes for a brutally violent play.
Though set in a Chicago real-estate office, the world of Glengarry Glenn Ross is a jungle. And, like all jungles, there’s one prevailing sentiment: Only the strong survive. A very masculine sentiment, and understanding masculinity—along with its Achilles heel, misogyny—is as important in analyzing Mamet’s plays as knowing guilt is to any exegesis of the Ancient Greeks.
As Karen C. Blansfield writes in Gender and Genre: Essays on David Mamet, the guy is “America’s foremost macho playwright. . . . By and large, women in Mamet’s plays have been peripheral at best and absent at worst.”
And Glengarry Glen Ross may be Mamet’s most masculine play. In another essay, Dorothy Jacobs writes that, in one sense, it’s nothing less than a “dramatization of how necessary the marginalization of women is to the maintenance of patriarchal ideologies.
“[The word] fuck is a constant, and the usual insults are contemptuous of any sexual position perceived as inferior. Having balls is superior, whereas someone sold or unable to sell is a “cocksucker,” a “cunt” or a “secretary.” . . . Yet the demeaning language is but a crude indicator of the prevailing homosocial attitudes. Fear begets the frequent denigration and persistent distancing of the female.”
Whether Mamet hates women or just doesn’t write them as well as men is debatable; what isn’t is that in Glengarry Glenn Ross, any weakness or softness shown by men is attacked by others as effeminate. So putting women in those roles as women, rather than women portraying men, offers a far different perspective than a typically male cast, one that enhances, rather than dilutes, Mamet’s script, says Krinke.
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Though they swear like sailors and are immersed in cutthroat competition, “their intentions are feminine,” he said. “It’s not like dykes on bikes or something. . . . The language in this play gets downright gross, and I think the women are approaching it from a more intellectual level. It’s not always as scathing or intimidating when they say it as when the men do. They’re looking for different takes. Like saying ‘fuck you’ with a smile. But what’s startling to me is that it still hurts as much, but there’s a feminine wile behind it. And that makes it just as deadly.”
Nicole Wessel, one of four actresses in the dual-gender cast, agrees that women performing in Glengarry Glenn Ross may be playing against traditional type, but that forces her and her fellow cast members to dig even deeper in connecting with their characters.
“Mamet has created a very male-dominant world in this play, and that has been a challenge to navigate because we are working against the text as originally imagined,” Wessel says. “However, the beauty of it is finding so much more to explore than would ever come up with men. The dynamics of the female/female and male/female relationships change nearly every tactic and motivation in this script. . . . I don’t think the audience should ‘forget’ we are women, but they hopefully won’t be thinking too much about it while watching.”
Glengarry Glen Ross at STAGEStheatre, 400 E. Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton, (714) 525-4484; www.stagesoc.org. Opens Fri. Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 6 & 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m. Through June 27. Visit the website to find out which cast is performing at what time. $15-$18.