Joe Mantello (Assassins, Take Me Out) takes on managerial duties of the group as director for the upcoming David Mamet revival. He was immediately sold on bringing back the work that centers on the cutthroat world of real estate.
"The writing of the play was too hard to resist," the two-time Tony Award winning director told Playbill.com hours after the first read-through with the cast at a March 15 press event. "I said to the guys today we’ve all been fortunate enough to work on good plays. But, every once in a while a masterpiece comes along. And I do think of this as a masterpiece. They are few and far between, but when they come along, seize the moment with them."
For Mantello, part of the job was finding the right ensemble of men to take on the mix of brazen and meeker coworkers of the play. "We took a long time to cast it because it’s like assembling a great orchestra. You want every instrument to be completely in tune and in synch with one another."
Among his all-male symphony are seasoned stage and screen actors Alan Alda, Jeffrey Tambor, Liev Schreiber, Gordon Clapp, Frederick Weller, Tom Wopat and Jordan Lage. (Mantello jokingly justifies his testosterone-heavy casts of late—Take Me Out, Assassins— with his experience on The Vagina Monologues: "I’ve banked a lot of hours with that.") All the aforementioned actors share the director's respect for the Pulitzer Prize-winning play and some share sales experience themselves.
One-time mutual funds pusher Alda boasted "I was really glad that they were doing this play again because I think it's one of the great plays in American theatre. And I knew they wanted to get a real strong company. You can't do this without a powerful acting company." The "M*A*S*H" veteran and "The Aviator" star continued, "When we sat down today, it was so much fun to hear, just in the first reading, to hear everybody start to cook. It was just wonderful." Tambor, a shoe peddler prior to his acting career, offers: "David Mamet is a home run hitter. What a great time to be on Broadway, there's Mamet, there's [Edward] Albee [playwright of the upcoming Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?], there's David Rabe [playwright enjoying his revised Hurlyburly Off-Broadway]. These are the priests."
Mamet's Atlantic Theatre co-hort—and former used clothing retailer—Lage concurred, "It's truly one of the great plays in the American dramatic canon. Not only that, it's just a fun play for actors to sink their teeth into." Lage takes on Detective Baylen, one of the two smaller, but pivotal roles in the work with "Dukes of Hazzard" and Annie Get Your Gun playing the other, James Lingk, the hesitant prey of one salesman. "I realized I couldn't pass it up," Wopat told Playbill.com. "The opportunity to be in a cast of this stature and doing a play of this import, it behooved me to do the right thing."
Fellow former telemarketers Clapp and Weller follow suit in their regard of the work. "I was really nervous," said Clapp who makes his Broadway debut and return to the stage after more than a dozen years. (He had a little decade-long television gig on "NYPD Blue," which just wrapped its series finale.) Weller compares the modern-day Bard to his well-known predecessor. "It's the closest thing that the modern theatre has to Shakespeare, I think. Mamet isn't the only modern playwright who writes stylistically in a heightened manner, but he's my favorite and the closest to Shakespeare in that his rhythms are very masculine."
Schreiber, a steadfast stage actor familiar with the Elizabethan Bard (having earned praise for his turns in Othello, Hamlet and the recent Henry V), also examines Mamet's grasp of language. "I think, of American playwrights for me, he's one of the best. Like Pinter did with English actors, Mamet's really been able to sort of capture the idiosyncrasies and the rhythms and the movements and the musicality of the American regionalisms and I love that."
The actor cites the original 1984 production as one of his first Broadway experiences — as does his director Mantello. " I just thought it was amazing," Mantello recalls about the work, from the playwright he spoke with in a recent phone conversation.
"He’s been very nice and generous," Mantello said of the lauded, but humble playwright. "I said 'Do you want to say anything about the play? Is there anything I should know?' And he goes, 'Ahh, I sorta like it.'"