Tuesday, August 16, 2005



The English language has the largest, most flexible and most expressive vocabulary the world has ever seen. An ever evolving and breathing form of communication that is an amalgamation of Celtic, Germanic, Gallic, Asian and Greek influences, English is the prefect language for entertainments, which part of its appeal as a "world language." It is this language and its ability to express ethos and pathos that binds SPAMALOT and the recent revival of GLEN-GARY GLEN-ROSS together in providing some of the funniest, most thought provoking and most human stage entertainments seen on the stage in many years.

SPAMALOT is one of the funniest productions I have ever witnessed on stage. Starring Tim Curry (King Arthur) David Hyde Pierce (Sir Robin) and Hank Azaria (Sir Lancelot)and directed by Mike Nichols, the Eric Idle penned lyrics and book combines the story line from the original "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" movie with a sharp satirical skewering of popular culture by creating set pieces for send ups of Broadway Musicals, Film, Las Vegas and the culture of 15 minutes of fame.

All of the classic scenes from the movie are included (the original film itself was a brilliant poke at the "authenticity" of making period films). The Knights who say Ni, The Taunting Frenchmen, The Killer Rabbit. But there is so much more to the stage version. The set pieces are tied together with brilliant musical numbers that send up "The Boy from Oz" (Lancelot discovers his inner Peter Allen - "his name is Lancelot, he likes to dance a lot") The Phantom of the Opera (punctuated by the hilarious "Every Show has a Song like This" - play on the dramatic Lloyd Weber love song duets. Tribute is also paid to "The Producers" with the brilliant and self referencing "You won't succeed on Broadway (without a Jew)."

What ties it all together is the brilliant and original plays on linguistic convention from the original and the newly twisted lyrics of the songs. While you have tears rolling down your cheek from laughter, as the brilliant faux diva Lady of The Lake (played perfectly by Sara Ramirez) sings "Whatever Happened to my Part?." Oh the vanity, oh the selfishness, oh where's my agent? You can't help but experience anew the power that language used in a comedic form can have in revealing truths about pop culture, history and ourselves.


In the revival of David Mamet's Pulitzer Prize winning play Glen-Gary, Glen-Ross, jargon, accent, time, place, and the unique language of self-reflection and a dying soul evoke emotions that may of us do not want to face. The language forces us to confront the ugliness we see in the characters and how much of that ugliness may live inside us.

The story revolves around a real estate sales office in Chicago, where the men are constantly on edge because they are forced to sell or die. They are selling two real estate lots of questionable quality in Florida called Glen Gary and Glen Ross.

The cast is stellar. Liev Schrieber plays Ricky Roma (he won the Tony award) the suave, brutal and cold hearted top dog at the firm. Alan Alda plays the down on his luck Shelly Levene, whose attempt at a comeback is at the center of things. Directed artfully and with lucid understanding of the bare bones nature of dark comedy by Joe Montello, the show is absolutely riveting, every word is loaded.

The play is a critical look at the ethics, mores and corrupting influences of American business culture. The sell or die ethos, the win at all costs mantra, the zero-sum game. Mamet's use of the English language of late 20th century American business is brutal, extremely crass and crude, harsh and often hateful. But it is this very language that makes is possible to explore the dynamics at play between the salesmen, the salesmen and management and the salesmen and the "customers." There is an ever-present sense of incredible stress and mutual disgust among them all.

It begins with the news that there is a new sales contest (things are bad, they are selling real estate no one wants to buy). First prize, a Cadillac, second prize a set of steak knives, third prize, "you're fired."

A series of confrontations, plots, triumphs and tragedies ensue. In the end, it seems no one really winds when the soul is subsumed under the animal lust for survival and triumph.

In both SPAMALOT and GLEN-GARY, GLEN-ROSS, it is a stylized linguistic style that moves the things forward and gives the audience and opportunity to experience the thrill of human emotion and reaction that only a live stage performance can bring.

Both shows in their own way do what Dickens and Shakespeare did for the English language, they create new words, new context for words and new experiences from words. If you are looking to laugh and have an opportunity to understand better how not to take YOURSELF to seriously, go see SPAMALOT.

If you want to experience how a master of linguistic subtlety dissects a sub-set of society, go see GLEN GARY GLEN ROSS. Better yet. Go see both.