Like an aging prizefighter, much of the punch has gone out of David Mamet's 1984 Pulitzer Prize–winning paean to boiler-room real estate sales. It is now mostly produced as an actors' showcase, and even then its glory is threadbare. However, as several fine performances here show, power is left in the punch, even if the legs are wobbly.
The story is thin, mostly a character piece with a bit of convenient plot dropped in. Shelly "The Machine" Levene (James Aidan McCaffrey) is a salesman down on his luck, a top producer on a long losing streak. He pleads with the office apparatchik (Frank Ruotolo) to cut him slack in the form of a few premium leads. Meanwhile, Rick Roma (Robert Dolan), the latest comer, struts around the office like the king rat, while drone salesmen Moss (Peter Holden) and Aranow (Lou Saliba) hatch a plot to rob the office, steal the sales leads, and sell them to a competitor.
The appeal of the piece in the early 1980s was its savage attack on the ethics of capitalism and its quirky off-color dialogue, which had a vaguely poetic rhythm. This was an era when American business was beginning its ethical decline and audiences could still be shocked at the idea of real estate salesmen sitting around conspiring to cheat people on land deals. Today, after the magnitude of the Enron and other scandals, this simple shyster operation feels downright quaint.
Ditto the obscenity. What was groundbreaking theatre in the early 1980s—using the F-word repeatedly as a noun, verb, adverb, adjective, and conjunction—has become mainstream cable TV fare that barely raises an eyebrow. And the famous staccato exchanges of dialogue sound more like a clip from theatre history than like a breakthrough in poetic speech.
Nonetheless, a troupe of solid actors can always have fun with the piece, as does this ensemble. Dolan is particularly strong as the cocky Roma, sitting on top of the world, at least until the next set of sales figures comes out. McCaffrey is a patient, controlled Shelly, although he does stumble a bit into an artificial reverence for the Mamet text. Saliba is delightful as the bumbling Aranow, who along with Holden's scheming Moss makes for much-needed comic relief. Director Lara Tal provides well-crafted direction, only occasionally falling into the trap of treating the play like a theatrical museum piece.
Presented by Rat Bastard Productions at the Actor's Playpen, 1514 N. Gardner St., L.A. Fri.-Sun. 8 p.m. Oct. 27-Dec. 10. (626) 354-4732.