Most men, even in this comparatively free country, through mere ignorance and mistake, are so occupied with the factitious cares and superfluously coarse labors of life that its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them. The laboring man has not leisure for a true integrity day by day; he cannot afford to sustain the manliest relations to men; his labor would be depreciated in the market. He has no time to be anything but a machine.
-- Henry David Thoreau sums up Glengarry Glen Ross.
here is a new theater space in town. Sleeping Cat Studio, the pet project of director/playwright Jim Esposito, is housed in a former garage on Marshall Avenue, one block north of Sun Studio, across the street from the Art Farm Gallery. It's a nicely executed, no-frills black box with a cozy coffee shop replacing the traditional lobby. It's a sort of bo-ho TheatreWorks minus a few amenities, and its opening this weekend helps to solidify that fashionably down-at-heel neighborhood's claim of being Memphis' true art(ist)s district.
"This is the place to be," Esposito says of his new theater. "And I really like the way the building turned out. It's got kind of a quiet ambience, and it's just sort of a charming place. And there's parking." This is Sleeping Cat's second coming in Memphis. Before leaving town to open a theater in Morehead City, North Carolina, in 1999, Esposito operated S.C.S. out of his apartment, a massive downtown loft that tripled as his wife Rosemary Falk's painting studio. The theater ended its relatively successful run with an extremely successful production of David Mamet's scathing comedy Glengarry Glen Ross.
"Why'd I come back to Memphis?" Esposito asks himself. "Jeez, man, I don't know. It just didn't work out. We did four shows [in North Carolina]. We did Love Letters and The Dumbwaiter -- all good shows. But I just couldn't build an audience there. There would be four people on opening night. Maybe six or eight for the rest of the run. It just wasn't happening, and I spent a bundle of money and said shoo! -- Let's go home before we're broke. Black is black. You want to be somewhere you know you can turn the key." As is the case with most independent producers, "turning the key" has been an ongoing struggle for Sleeping Cat.
"You just can't get into TheatreWorks," Esposito says of the Playhouse on the Square-operated pay-to-play venue where he premiered his last and most complete original work, The Ribbon Mill. "It's always booked. And I need a place to perform, to keep the name [of the company] alive. It was time to jump in and start swinging again. And we are doing it right this time. We're going not-for-profit and putting a board together."
"I don't want this to be about Jim Esposito anymore," Esposito says of his decision to open the new Sleeping Cat Studios with a reprise of Glengarry Glen Ross, rather than one of his own plays. "If I have something good, we'll do it," he adds, "but it's not about me. We want to do filling, snappy shows -- Glengarry Glen Ross. We're going to do Quills. That sort of thing."
Although both plays mentioned have certainly had their image greatly enhanced via ambitious Hollywood makeovers, they are, nonetheless, daring choices for a small company, the Mamet play in particular. Taking its cues from Salesman, a ferocious 1968 documentary about hard-sell Bible salesmen, Glengarry Glen Ross is Mamet's most eviscerating meditation on the spiritual price exacted by the culture of capitalism. Set in a sleazy real estate office, it tells the story of desperate men in a savage world where there are only three kinds of people: winners with shiny new Cadillacs, losers with steak knives (minus the meat), and the unemployed. In short, the man who cannot close a deal has no excuses. He simply does not exist. Mamet's forcefully written play has, thanks to the film (and more specifically the video), struck such a resounding chord that most blood-and-guts sales types, mistaking it for an action movie, can quote it start to finish.
"We're just looking to do things we think will have a broad appeal," Esposito says, putting on the hard sell.
Rick Crowe, whose virtually unrecognized performance in Sleeping Cat's The Ribbon Mill blew every actor in Memphis off the stage last season, reprises the role of Roma, a profanity-spewing salesman who has developed his own consumer-based religion. Sleeping Cat regular Rick Moore is likewise returning from the original cast, along with director Amy Van Dorn.
Esposito hopes to make his new theater space a multi-purpose facility. In addition to producing future Sleeping Cat productions, he plans to rent the space out to other performance groups and to host an anything-goes Thursday night comedy show.
"But that's in the future," he says. "Right now we still need to get more chairs."
Glengarry Glen Ross, Sleeping Cat Studio at 655 Marshall. Fridays and Saturdays through February 2nd. Tickets $10. 728-4262.