Experimentation is as much a part of the creative process as it is a requirement of scientific research. Without trying new things or different approaches, the performing and visual arts can stagnate and lose their ability to stir and inspire us.
You never know what you might see or learn by shaking things up a bit.
You could say that was part of the thinking behind last week’s often fascinating reading of David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross” with an all-female cast at the Asolo Repertory Theatre.
This one-night-only free reading came during the final week of performances of the theater’s now-closed, gripping production of Mamet’s play about the high stakes world of real estate salesmen pitching worthless land in Florida.
The <NO1><NO>reading came about as a result of a recent Asolo Rep program called “Roles Women Play.” Someone wondered what Mamet’s play would sound like with female voices. It would be interesting to hear all the curse words, but more importantly, the group wanted to know how the story itself would come off with women playing the cut-throat salespeople.
“We were curious to see if the story could be translated to a female perspective, if women could exist in this world,” said Lily Junker, who directed the reading. “With so many women working in sales and business, we wanted to see if the play was about being male or about something else.”
To test out the theory, a cast of seven actresses from this season’s Asolo Rep company took on the tough-talking men. They changed the names for the most part: George Aaronow became Gwen, and Ricky Roma became Ricki; any references to men were changed to women. But everything else stayed the same, including all the cursing.
It was an interesting exercise, more successful when the audience could clearly see how a woman’s voice or attitude can alter the tone or meaning of a scene.
For example, in the play’s third scene, salesman Ricky Roma is waxing philosophical in a bar next to another, mostly quiet man. We don’t know yet if they’re two salespeople, friends or strangers. Soon we realize that Ricky sees the other man, James Lingk, as a potential sales target. In the Asolo Rep production, Eric Hissom would take a moment to slyly look at his mark, as if to say, “I’ve got you now.”
In the reading, Gail Rastorfer made it sound like even more of a seduction. There’s a softer, friendlier tone even to some of the coarser language and the descriptions Ricki uses to befriend the other person.
Likewise, there’s a different — not necessarily better or worse — sense of sympathy and pity at the pathetic turns some of the characters take, particularly Gwen Aaronow as she deals with harsh treatment by police after a robbery in the real estate office.
And you also get a different feeling of power and control when a woman, in this case, “Heidi Chronicles” star Elizabeth King-Hall, plays the officious office manager who doles out the precious leads for potential sales. She’s using her power to really control the others while seeming to be above it all.
Much of the play could work with women, though in my mind, most women wouldn’t talk the same way as the men do in this play. The curse words have a little less of a threatening tone, but I find it hard to believe they would use the same kinds of curses or in the same way. (The actresses insisted otherwise.)
As women have risen to the top of the corporate and political worlds, we’ve heard with increasing frequency how they confront and deal with problems in different ways than men. They listen and think more before acting.
If that’s true, then I really wonder what a real female version of “Glengarry Glen Ross” would be like.
The reading project came together in about 10 days, and the woman had only a few hours each to work on their scenes between their other performances and rehearsals.
“I’d love to spend more time on it and would love a deeper conversation with the audience,” Junker said.
These are ideas worth exploring.
Jay Handelman is the theater critic for the Herald-Tribune and chairman of the American Theatre Critics Association. Contact him at email@example.com. Be sure to “like” Arts Sarasota on Facebook, Follow me on twitter at twitter.com/jayhandelman.