When Al Pacino does a play, nothing happens thoughtlessly. As everyone knows who has seen him gnaw through decades of theater roles like a pit bull on an ankle, Pacino pummels his way into a character with obsessive discipline and, often, equally mesmerizing weirdness.
Knowing this, it is hard not to look deeper into Pacino's surprisingly small performance in the hot-ticket revival of "Glengarry Glen Ross" -- a portrayal that dares to disappoint people paying up to nearly $400 to watch him be possessed again by David Mamet's 1984 Pulitzer-winning motor-mouth masterwork.
The play, directed with more emotional naturalism than stylized virtuosic flash by Daniel Sullivan, remains joyously mean-spirited -- giddy with exhilarating patter and poetic dirty talk about cons in a small-potatoes real-estate office.
Ever since the 1992 movie, Pacino has been identified as the most extravagant character, Ricky Roma, the sleazy and triumphant hustler who leads the sales contest for a Cadillac. But Pacino has moved up a generation and down on the food chain now to be Shelly Levene, the aging loser played by Jack Lemmon in the film and by Alan Alda in Joe Mantello's leaner, hungrier, scarier 2005 revival.
Where the others played Shelly as a former star salesman in a slump, Pacino appears to see him more as a broken man, almost frail, with a sad way of fidgeting with his colorless hair as he begs for survival. It is a hard to believe this Shelly was once so slick he was nicknamed "the machine," but easy to be moved by him as a descendant of Willy Loman in what I believe is America's other great salesman tragedy.
Now Ricky is played -- wonderfully -- by the riveting Bobby Cannavale as an omnivorous, too-big-for-the-tank shark wearing a silver suit and a crooked smile. John C. McGinley is especially dazzlingly as the hothead who plans the office crime, while Richard Schiff embodies utter despair as a worker-bee who never tasted greatness. David Harbour has the petty confidence of the self-interested naif of a boss.
The play, which runs less than two hours with an intermission, feels less furious than melancholy -- and, yes, more thoughtful -- this time around.
WHAT "Glengarry Glen Ross"
WHERE Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 W. 45th St.
INFO $72-$162; 212-239-6200, glengarrybroadway.com
BOTTOM LINE Smaller Pacino, still thoughtful