The best political play of the year is some decades old and never mentions any form of politics. Far from Washington, its settings are a drab Chinese restaurant and a rundown office in some nondescript Chicago neighborhood. Yet if Republicans want to learn what they elected, under the mistaken impression that they were voting for Christianity and civic virtue, they couldn’t learn their lesson more lucidly than by seeing David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross. Yes, the characters are only a cheesy crew of shyster realtors, selling worthless tracts in imaginary housing developments, but don’t be misled: As they lie, brag, bully, and betray one another, and cheat the customers for whom they have utter contempt, it takes only a quick recollection of the day’s headlines to imagine them instead selling the Bush Social Security plan, the Bush budget, and the Bush war in Iraq. That their solidarity conceals their deep loathing for one another rounds the picture out perfectly: This is the play to see if you want to know what Dennis Hastert really thinks of Tom DeLay.
Joe Mantello’s production, though it sometimes underscores a little too heavily, catches both Mamet’s subtle analysis of the forces driving this worm’s-eye view of corporate life and—the most important thing in any Mamet production—his wonderful, dryly elliptical word-music. To hear the first three minutes of spattered dialogue rising from the stage is to know you’re in a magic world of verbal artistry, and it only gets better. The performances range from solid to absolutely first-rate, with particularly fine work from Gordon Clapp and Jeffrey Tambor, as the scheming Moss and his patsy Aaronow, and a plummy, Dickensian rendering of Levene, by Alan Alda, that’s a banquet in itself.