PLAYBILL PICKS: David Mamet's Five Most Memorable Men

By Robert Simonson
25 Oct 2012

Liev Schreiber as Ricky Roma in the 2005 Broadway revival.
Photo by Scott Landis

Ricky Roma, Glengarry Glen Ross

There are seven good roles for men in Glengarry Glen Ross, and two great roles. The other great part, Shelley "The Machine" Levine, an old drummer about to go under for the last time, could easily have been on this list. (Indeed, a few interviewed for this article suggested it should be.) But this vibrating potboiler of deceit and desperation really belongs to Ricky Roma — an opinion Roma would surely agree with. The office hotshot, the firm's best seller, Roma is a showhorse who never passes up an opportunity to boast of his numbers or his prowess with a pitch. He's got the best patter, the sharpest suit, the nicest car. He's the sleekest shark in the tank. It's no coincidence that when the show is done on Broadway, it's the actor playing Roma who takes home the Tony — Joe Mantenga in 1985; Liev Schreiber in 2005.

"It's pure unadulterated joy playing Ricky," said Schreiber. "The guy's inner tempo is incredible. To me he's the intellectual equivalent of a trapeze artist. He's just so quick on his feet. And so unabashedly narcissistic. That's really from the play. Because we're not supposed to be that way in real life. But Ricky doesn't give a shit."

"Roma is, of course, classic Mamet," said Lage, who understudied Schreiber in the 2005 Broadway revival, and went on several times. "Smooth-talking, profane, driven, determined, magnetic, the merciless alpha male shark of the real estate office, he does not suffer fools gladly. He allies himself with those he thinks will benefit him and humiliates those he has no use for. And the audience loves him for it. Seriously, Roma could be a cult figure to some."

"Performing the role," Lage continued, "I found that the audience just eats Roma's scenes up. The key in performance is picking up the pace and speaking up — literally, talking loud and keeping the putdowns coming fast and furious. He ruthlessly walks all over these guys. I remember seeing Joe Mantegna several times in the role. He had the audience eating out of his hand. Joe had achieved a kind of rock-star status with those audiences in that original production." Lage added, "I believe that if the actor playing Roma isn't generating that kind of giddy mirth in the audience in Act Two, he is doing something seriously wrong."

During rehearsal for Glengarry, Mosher said he asked Mamet if he thought Ricky was the kind of guy who would think the glass is half-full or half-empty. "He said he's the kind of guy who'd give you the history of water, starting with the cavemen."