The Tony-nominated revival of David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross at the Royale Theatre probably hits close to home to a lot of the audience, whether they're in real estate or not. Each of the play's two acts takes place on separate sets — Act I occurs in a Chinese restaurant, Act II is in a real estate office that looks much scarier than anything seen in Dracula, Jekyll & Hyde, or Sweeney Todd. It's amazing how horrifying cheap paneling and fluorescent lighting can be.
Horrifying, but effective. So much so that they earned the show's set designer Santo Loquasto, his 12th Tony nomination (he's won costume Tonys for Grand Hotel and The Cherry Orchard, and a scenic design Tony for Café Crown). In sussing out ideas for the restaurant, Loquasto recalled previous scouting he had done for a film some years ago when he found a restaurant in Jersey City that he thought was perfect. “It was the right character for this neighborhood place these guys would gravitate to,” he explains, adding that he also drew on an Upper West Side restaurant he frequented when he first moved there which, like the Jersey City dive, was on the second floor. He originally envisioned a row of windows in the restaurant but later replaced that with a wall of fish tanks. “I was fascinated with the fish tanks and wanted to include them in the design, and for one brief shining moment they did have water in them.”
Another consideration for the restaurant set was the spatial relationships. Although none of the characters get up from their banquettes, the restaurant has a flow to it so the characters don't feel like they're trapped, according to Loquasto. “The set became about how the scenes work, especially the last scene,” he explains. “How do you keep the characters close enough to make the conversation seem credible?” The scene Loquasto is referring to is the final scene of Act I when Ricky Roma (Liev Schreiber) is trying to seduce Jim Lingk (Tom Wopat) into buying real estate. The two actors are at separate tables and the scene begins in mid conversation indicating that they obviously did not come in together, but rather struck up a conversation.
Loquasto was ably assisted by Wilson Chen, who actually grew up in a Chinese restaurant in San Francisco. Chen's mother provided invaluable sources for the Chinese accoutrements for a design Loquasto calls simply “red and nicotine. Artistically it was somewhat clichéd.”
After intermission — which the original 1985 Broadway production did not have — the action moves to the Glengarry Glen Ross office after a break-in the night before. The audience knows it's an inside job, but exactly who did it is not a foregone conclusion. “The office was something I had a clearer sense of texturally just from life experiences,” he explains. “It was more a matter of sorting out the logistics of it with [director Joe Matello]. We did several versions of it when we hit upon the revolving door as a way to make those false exits and seeing someone coming and a longer view of them was plausible.” There was always the notion of the broken window from the break-in that really showed “how pathetic a break-in it was — it wasn't that extensive and the blinds tell the tale more than anything.” Loquasto is referring to the single smashed window stage right with horizontal blinds hanging akimbo behind a oversize piece of plywood.
The rest of the office is right out of Dilbert's nightmares: unwieldy metal desks and chairs, fake wood grain paneling, plaques, bulletin boards, and an A/C duct hanging among the fluorescent fixtures. Loquasto figured it was a 1930s building that had been altered in the 1960s with the paneling as the old walls extend up past it. He added that the duct allowed him to compress the space even more and adding further to the oppression on stage. However, the realism became arduous when paperwork was involved. Literally. The office set is strewn with files and papers and, because of that, every single piece had to be fireproofed since the characters smoke on stage. “We had to iron all the papers because they were soaked so thoroughly in flame-proofing solvent and they came back all crinkled,” Loquasto says, adding “It's a horrible place to live in and the bathroom is really nasty!” We'll take his word for it.