Colleen Winton is the first to say that the notoriously testosterone-and-profanity-driven David Mamet has never been one of her favourite playwrights.
As she puts it: “Because it’s so male, I feel like I haven’t been invited to the party.”
Now, however, Winton isn’t just invited to the party. She’s one of its hosts - and she wants to see theatre lovers turn out in force to check out Classic Chic Productions’ all-female version of Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross. It’s onstage at Vancouver’s Beaumont Studios until June 27.
The New Westminster actor plays Shelly Levene, a 60-something real estate salesman who’s in a slump and who’s just been pitted against his cohorts in a race for his own job survival.
For director Rachel Peake, the all-male play was the perfect vehicle for Classic Chic, an all-female ensemble established in 2013 to give women a chance to perform great roles they would traditionally not have a chance to play.
“Glengarry Glen Ross examines the way men related to one another, score points, buoy each other up, and sacrifice each other to get ahead,” she says in a press release. “By casting women in these male roles we seek to study the nature of men’s relationships and to fit them into a broader dialogue on masculinity and femininity, as divorced from male and female.”
Winton, who also appeared as a man in the company’s production of The Winter’s Tale, has an easy response to the question of why the company would tackle Mamet’s contemporary classic.
“My response is, ‘Why not do this play?’” she says simply. “We’re not making a point. It’s not making a comment about men at all, it’s just kind of exploring the line between masculinity and femininity – it’s not about gender, it’s about behaviour.”
The women are playing the characters as written – which is to say, as male. Which means the female cast has been working on finding the masculinity in their characters, starting with body language (yes, stuffed trousers and all).
“Men generally take up more space than women do,” Winton says, from “man spread” while sitting to the way they walk into a room – which, she notes, makes it interesting, as a woman, to inhabit that new body. “Just trying to alter your thinking and your physicality to be able to encompass that.”
In the end, however, she says it’s like any role: you find your character within the text and strive to bring their truth to the stage.
Winton is amused that the play – whose dialogue would not be reproducible in a community newspaper without substantial use of asterisks – has changed the way the women communicate. She laughs that the dressing room now finds them all “talking like truckers” – which poses an extra challenge to the cast members who happen to be mothers of young children and who can’t carry that language into their daily lives.
“The F-word has crept into my vocabulary somewhat,” she says with a laugh.
Not to mention that it’s a bit more challenging to find places to run lines, she says – since your average coffee shop would probably throw her out if she talked like Levene does.
Profanity and testosterone aside, however, Winton is hoping the audience responds well to seeing the female cast tackle the male roles. Her hope is that, like the previous production of The Winter’s Tale, the fact that women are playing male roles will be a novelty only for the first few minutes of the play.
After that, she says, it’s all about getting to know the characters and watching the story unfold, as it would be on any night at the theatre.
Glengarry Glen Ross is onstage at Beaumont Studios, 326 West Fifth Ave. in Vancouver, until June 27. Official opening night is Saturday, June 6. Tickets are $25 at the door or $23 plus service fees at www.ticketstonight.ca.
Check out www.classicchic.ca for more about the production.