Al Pacino steals Glengarry Glenn Ross – in a bad way

The Hollywood actor's star-power and mannered performance unbalance David Mamet's play

LAST UPDATED AT 15:42 ON Mon 10 Dec 2012

THE NEW production of David Mamet's Glengarry Glenn Ross is the highest grossing play in Broadway history, but it is unbalanced by the celebrity and inconsistent performance of its star, Al Pacino.

Pacino played the property hot-shot, Ricky Roma, in the acclaimed 1992 movie version of the play. This time he's the washed-up salesman Shelly Levene and his Broadway performance places Levene "firmly and dominatingly" at the centre of what should be a tight ensemble piece, writes Ben Brantley in The New York Times.

"There's not much the other actors can do to compete with or even balance Mr Pacino's grandstanding," laments Brantley.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Sarah Crompton complains that Pacino's Levene is "so fidgety and tentative" the audience struggles to believe he was once the firm's top salesman, a man who earned the nickname 'The Machine'.

Pacino delivers "both anger and a dreadful pathos", but never convinces us he is the man he's playing, explains Crompton. "Sometimes, as when he says 'I'm a good man' with a kind of dying fall, the act creates magic. For most of the time, it just meanders."

Charles McNulty of the The Los Angeles Times  says Pacino "unleashes enough thespian trickery for a couple of Shakespeare tragedies". But he's less kind about the Hollywood star's "eccentric" handling of Mamet's famously expletive-peppered dialogue. Pacino emphasises "random words in a kind of arthritic squeal", says McNulty. He's "like a jazz improviser not even his fellow musicians can follow".

It's all gesture, no substance according to Bloomberg's Jeremy Gerard. Pacino "all but disappears into mannerisms - whispered speeches that suddenly turn explosive, a preening, cocky walk, the fingers constantly combing through his thatch of hair," he says.

Others are more forgiving. For TheatreMania's Brian Scott Lipton, Pacino's turn as Levene is simply "inconsistent". The actor's dialogue is "tentative" and "occasionally sing-songy", but his final moments are "exquisite, and evidence of just how great a stage actor he can be". · 

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.