I saw the movie version of “Glengarry Glen Ross” before I’d ever seen anything else written by David Mamet. And, like a lot of SDMB regulars, not only did I love it, I can recite entire scenes from memory.
But while there were several hilarious lines, several uproariously funny moments, the movie was really a very grim drama. The dialogue was extremely naturalistic. When Dave Moss (Ed Harris) engages George Aaronow (Alan Arkin) in a lengthy conversation about robbing the office, it feels like a very real conversation, albeit with a few comic interludes.
Since I loved the movie, I went to see the revival on Broadway when I was in New York last summer. It had an all-star cast, and it was superbly done… but it bore NO resemblance to the movie (not just because the brilliant Alec Baldwin sequence wasn’t part of the play).
The dialogue in the play was exactly the same as in the movie, but the actors’ approach to the material couldn’t have been more different. They played “Glengarry Glen Ross” as a flat out comedy. And it worked brilliantly! Gordon Clapp and Jeffrey Tambor played the parts of Moss and Aaronow in the play, and I swear, Clapp was channeling Bud Abbott! I mean, they played the scene like an Abbott & Costello routine! It was brilliantly done, but I never would have imagined anyone staging the scene that way.
Alan Alda played Shelley Levine like a Neil Simon character- and again, it worked. Jack Lemmon made Shelley a sad, tragic figure from the beginning. While Alda’s Levine was a pitiable figure at the end of the play, he was a hilariously whiney character, a hysterically funny schmendrick for most of the play. As with Tambor and Clapp, Alda’s scenes with the office manager paly like classic vaudeville routines.
I emphasize again, the dialogue was almost EXACTLY the same in the movie and the play’s revival. All that changed was the approach of the actors. Depending on how actors choose to play “Glengarry,” it can be a devastatingly tragic story with some hilarious moments, or it can be a hilarious farce with a tragic ending.
So, how about you? What are the most different interpretations you’ve ever seen of the same material?