The ensemble cast. Photo by Andrée Lanthier
For many, the line “Always be closing” recalls high stakes real estate, a gritty Chicago of the 1980s and Alec Baldwin’s piercing blue eyes. But David Mamet’s iconic Glengarry Glen Ross was a Pulitzer Prize-winning play before it was a movie.
The 1992 film, featuring acting legends such as Kevin Spacey, Jack Lemmon and Al Pacino, has a dedicated cult following, including Montreal comedian Mike Paterson, who’s part of the ensemble cast in the Segal Centre’s new production of Mamet’s masterpiece.
“This is something that I was, like, completely enthralled with in my 20s and now to be in it, I’m super stoked,” Paterson says.
The Just for Laughs veteran’s role as James Lingk (played in the film by Jonathan Pryce) requires him to set all funny business aside.
“He’s the rube, the guy who they’re selling swampland in Florida to. And [he’s] buying it completely. He’s very serious,” says Paterson of Lingk, a charcter that he feels represents the financial mantra of the ’80s: “You gotta spend money to make money.”
Playing the rube was also challenging for the comedian because he’s the son of a salesman. “It’s so funny that I’m playing the guy who buys, because my dad sold insurance. This [play] totally hits home. His salary was all commission. Thank God he’s retired,” says Paterson. “And I’m a comedian. I have to sell myself in front of an audience. And I better deliver.”
Glengarry Glen Ross marks the directorial debut of Paul Flicker, the Segal’s former artistic director. “It feels great,” says Flicker of his first taste of directing. “I’m in there with a great group of guys who are all really sharp and really smart and bring a lot to the table.”
Flicker, who holds a master’s degree in literature, appreciates Mamet for his way with words. “I’m not a master of aesthetics like Peter Hinton. I’m not a master of movement and choreography like Sacha Marin. What gets me going is words. And to me the words in this play are as important and as precise as any play of Shakespeare’s.”
Paterson and Flicker both refuse to favour the movie over the play or vice versa.
“Mamet wrote the movie himself and there are some things I think he improved on. Like, that whole Alec Baldwin speech is kind of cool. But he added all the stuff about Levene’s daughter [in the movie], which he only refers to once or twice obliquely in the play. In the movie he makes it very obvious and sentimental, so, I think he does it better in the play,” argues Flicker.
For Paterson, the comparison rests wholly on the character of Shelley “The Machine” Levene, a once-upon-a-time successful salesman who can’t seem to make a sale now that his daughter is sick. “For me, what Jack Lemmon does as Levene in the movie is iconic. He broke my heart. And [in the play] you watch R.H. Thomson doing something completely different — what I call ‘super acting.’”
“The play is faster-moving than the movie is,” says Paterson. “And the actors are super good. It’s ridiculous. And I’m not just saying that because I’m one of them!” ■
Glengarry Glen Ross runs at the Segal Centre (5170 Côte-Ste-Catherine) from March 16–30, $24 students/$30 under 30/$36 seniors/$39