Manu Narayan is taking no prisoners as Richard Roma, the smooth talking, ruthless, sleazy, dishonest, immoral top salesman, in La Jolla Playhouse’s critically-acclaimed revival of Glengarry Glen Ross, David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize-winning lacerating play about a group of desperate salesmen in a Chicago real estate office, currently playing to packed houses in the Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre through October 21, 2012.
Playhouse Artistic Director Christopher Ashley is at the helm of Glengarry Glen Ross, and has assembled a seasoned multi-cultural cast featuring Narayan, Peter Maloney (Broadway’s West Side Story, Six Degrees of Separation) as Shelly Levene, James Sutorius (Broadway’s The Farnsworth Invention) as Dave Moss, Ray Anthony Thomas (Broadway’s Race) as George Aaronow, Jeff Marlow (Colony Theatre’s Around the World in 80 Days) as James Lingk, Matt MacNelly (NY Fringe Festival’s Fourteen Flights) as Baylen, and Johnny Wu (Playhouse’s Peter and the Starcatchers, Broadway’s Chinglish) as John Williamson, who are at the top of their game in the lyrical language of “Mametspeak.”
Set designer Todd Rosenthal, lighting designer David Lander and sound designer David Corsello set the scene for the depressing tone of Glengarry Glen Ross, in the first act with the worn down Chinese restaurant, complete with goldfish in a fish tank, where the salesmen ply their trade. When a contest is announced to earn the new sales leads, it results in a feeding frenzy as the salesmen resort to manipulation, bribery and even theft to keep their jobs. Toni Leslie James has nailed each of her men in the 80’s- Richard Roma’s suits are tailored for his success, complete with steel toe cowboy boots; office manager John Williamson, looks very much the corporate company man. The restaurant set piece rises at the top of the second act, revealing the dilapidated real estate office in disarray after the robbery. The Darwinian struggle that ensues is a stinging indictment of a culture that rewards the strong, punishes the weak and values success above all else.
“Glengarry Glen Ross debuted in 1982 in the midst of a real estate crisis very similar to the one we’re experiencing today,” said Christopher Ashley. “In the nearly 30 years since it first burst upon the scene, Glengarry Glen Ross hasn’t lost an ounce of its ferocity, relevance or impact. It’s a long-overdue privilege to bring the work of David Mamet to The Playhouse’s stage. This great American play is timelier than ever.”
Los Angeles Times Theater Critic Charles McNulty writes, “The success of Ashley’s tight and tense production owes a good deal to the actors in these roles, Peter Maloney as down-and-out Shelly Levene determined to regain his office mojo, and Manu Narayan as Richard Roma, the slick, unscrupulous king of the conspicuously placed sales leader board, which never lets anyone forget who’s on top…Closing deals is clearly a high-testosterone activity. When Roma puts the moves on a prospective buyer, it’s as though he’s making love to them. Narayan has the character strut around like a foul-mouthed Casanova. It’s an attention-grabbing performance — any minute you half-expect this Roma to break out some “Saturday Night Fever” dance moves — and it adds to the velocity of Ashley’s thrillingly paced production.”
Pam Kragen of the North County Times writes, “Manu Narayan is dazzling as the testosterone-fueled Richard Roma, the slick, charismatic sales leader who easily overwhelms the resistance of his timid, awe-struck mark with a blizzard of self-important, nonsensical phraseology. It’s clear that Roma is selling more than swamp land in Glengarry Highlands to his wimpy, henpecked customer James Lingk. He’s selling machismo and Lingk (a quivering, cowering Jeff Marlow) is most definitely buying.”
SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison writes,”Narayan’s Roma is everything you’d expect a sleazebag salesman to be: fleet of tongue, shy on ethics and a human verbal bulldozer who doesn’t take “no” for an answer.”
La Jolla Light Theater Critic Jessica Ordon writes, “Manu Narayan gives an energetic performance as Richard Roma, a character made up of off-color charm, luck, and lies.”
San Diego City Beat Theater Critic David L. Coddon writes, “Even the comparatively successful Richard Roma (Manu Narayan) is in fierce competition not only with his fellow agents, but also with a creeping part of himself that wants to F-bomb it all… Narayan’s performance as Roma, which manages gestures of tenderness toward the pitiable Shelly, is the stoutest among a cast…”
SanDiegostory.com Theater Critic Ken Herman writes, “However, whenever Manu Narayan as the eerily captivating Ricky Roma was on stage, the play soared. Narayan not only delivered a pitch-perfect take on the character of this devious, narcissistic hawker of worthless real estate, but he vigorously telegraphed the terse, staccato scan of Mamet’s prose. Roma believes he is larger than life, and Narayan made even the slightest gesture stoke his smarmy illusion.”
Manu Narayan made his Broadway debut as Akaash, the romantic lead in the A.R. Rahman / Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Bombay Dreams, for which he received a Drama League Award nomination. A musical based on the popular cinema of India, Bollywood, Bombay Dreamswas the first musical on Broadway ever to be composed by an Indian and starring an all South Asian cast.
Highlights from Narayan’s stage career include the male leads in Romeo and Juliet (Shakespeare & Company); Tom Stoppard’s Indian Ink (Wilma Theatre); Rostand’s Cyrano, Sheridan’s The Rivals, and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Boys from Syracuse (Baltimore CenterStage), and in The People Next Door (Yale Repertory Theatre). He appeared in Second Stage’s Off Broadway Revival of Eric Bogosian’s subUrbia; the world premiere of Suzan-Lori Parks’ Fucking A at the New York Shakespeare Festival at The Public Theatre; the Kennedy Center’s revival of Terrence McNally’s The Lisbon Traviata; the musical Yeast Nation (NY Fringe Fest—La MaMa) from the creators of Urinetown; and the national tour of Miss Saigon.
Other regional credits include Two Gentlemen of Verona (Shakespeare Theatre); Love’s Labour’s Lost (Shakespeare & Company); Metamorphoses (Cincinnati Playhouse); The Winter’s Tale (Missouri Rep); and Les Miserables(St. Louis MUNY).
On film, Narayan is best known for co-starring with Mike Myers, in the Paramount Pictures comedy The Love Guru. Click below for a clip of The Love Guru.
Narayan stars as the romantic lead in Sudhish Kamath’s Good Night | Good Morning, which he co-produced, and Shailja Gupta’s Walkaway. He recently co-starred with Lucy Hale in the Warner Brothers/ ABC Family comedy A Cinderella Story: Once Upon a Song, is featured in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender; and co-starred with Canadian Comic Russell Peters in Quarterlife Crisis (Showtime). His guest starring appearances on TV include “Unforgettable” (CBS), “Rubicon” (AMC), “Nurse Jackie” (Showtime), “The Sopranos” (HBO), “Law & Order: SVU” (NBC),”Cashmere Mafia” (ABC), “Lipstick Jungle” (NBC).
Click below for the trailer of Good Night | Good Morning.
Narayan, whose other love has always been music, is an accomplished vocalist and songwriter, plays classical and Indian Classical saxophone, and is a graduate of the Carnegie Mellon University School of Music.
In 2003, he was invited to sing at a small state dinner for the first official visit of President George W. Bush to the UK. Narayan sang for and met the Queen of England, The Royal Family, President Bush and Colin Powell. He has had the privilege to sing for then Senator John Kerry’s presidential campaign sponsored by Hillary Clinton as well as elsewhere with Cyndi Lauper, Garth Hudson and Martha Wainwright. As a recording artist, Narayan has collaborated on and recorded original and cover tracks for feature film soundtracks including The Love Guru, Cinderella Story: Once Upon a Song, Hiding Divya, Good Night|Good Morning, Walkaway and Vanessa Williams’ And Then Came Love. Narayan collaborated with Grammy winner Frank London numerous times around the world, most recently recording and performing for his Soundbrush records’ Klezmer concept album A Night in the Old Marketplace. As the lead vocalist, Narayan has performed the concert version of the album throughout Europe and North America.
Click below for Narayan in performance with Frank London in A Night in the Old Marketplace.
In addition to solo work, Narayan is lead singer of the band Darunam with Radovan Jovicevic, founding member of Yugoslavia’s Grupa Zana. The band brings together the melodies and rhythms from three homelands: America, India, and Serbia. Their album of Electronic Lounge/World Gypsy music with Canadian Clarinetist Milan Milosevic entitled The Last Angel on Earth was released live on CBC national radio in Canada in 2010 and is available on itunes.
Click below for All That’s Beautiful Must Die video.
I flew to La Jolla over the weekend to see Manu Narayan and Johnny Wu in Glengarry Glen Ross, and to photograph them for my Library of Congress collection, the Lia Chang Asian Pacific American Theater Photography Portfolio in the AAPI Collection. After giving me a backstage tour of La Jolla Playhouse, Narayan and I chatted poolside and in the dressing room about his star turn as Richard Roma, the importance of non-traditional casting, and his latest stage and musical projects.
Lia: What is your connection to Glengarry Glen Ross?
Manu: I had seen the original film with my father in the theatres when I was still in Jr. High. He was a Jack Lemmon fan and I was an Al fan. Didn’t really know what it was about, but after the initial shock of the language wore off, we loved it.
Lia: What is your history with Christopher Ashley?
Manu:Working with Christopher is a dream. He is so smart and has been so even keeled throughout the entire process. He brings out the best in his actors and allows us to play throughout the process. He’s such an actor’s director, in that he has a clear vision and is so creative. He allows the actor to explore and allow moments in rehearsal to remain questions, with the trust that it will be figured out. You really couldn’t ask for anything more in a director.
This is the second time we’ve worked together. A couple of years ago, we worked on a rarely done but spectacular Terrence McNally play, The Lisbon Traviata, at the Kennedy Center. What an amazing experience, as Terrence was there as a part of the process. I had a nice role as Mike, and I worked with these amazing actors, John Glover, Malcolm Gets and Chris Hartl. It can be a difficult play because it is has a very comedic seeming first act and a tragic seeming second act. But Christopher was able to direct the production in such a way bringing out the tragedy and comedy in both acts so that the audience, press, etc. were able to see, feel and enjoy the power of the play as a whole.
Lia: How were you cast in Glengarry Glen Ross?
Manu: I have wanted to work at La Jolla Playhouse for so long, knowing the high quality of work that they do here. Actually, in the past few years, there have been a couple of opportunities where I had been offered a show that was going to be at La Jolla Playhouse and for whatever reason, I wasn’t able to do those. When Christopher called and asked me to do this play, which I love, I was so happy. I knew that I had to do it, for the opportunity to work with Christopher again on Mamet, and for this great role.
Lia: Joe Mantegna won a Tony in the Broadway production as Richard Roma, and Al Pacino played it the movie. How did you prepare?
Manu: Early in rehearsal, Christopher encouraged me to be bold and unapologetic and to create a character that is more “Street Smart” than “School Smart.” I think that was a great start. Also, the text in Mamet is very specific and has a lot of quick changes of thought that are not spelled out. So there was a lot of work to figure out the way I moved through space, the way I spoke, and what I was intending to say and what I was actually saying. We got there through my imagination and work with my fellow actors and Christopher through rehearsals, with Toni our costume designer, growing a beard, choosing to wear cowboy boots with shiny metal which to me signified Roma’s Alpha Male King of the Salesmen aspect and also the American Wild West ‘Lawless’ quality of the world of these salesmen, and finally with the audience.
Lia: What has your experience been like working at La Jolla Playhouse?
Manu: The Playhouse has a great staff and awesome board. What a great place to work.
Lia: The press materials mentions the multi-racial cast. Please share your thoughts.
Manu: It is a shame to me that more productions aren’t cast in this way, with an eye to what America is today. Kudos to The La Jolla Playhouse, this production works like gang busters. Audiences and the critics are loving that this production represents what America is, a collection of Americans whose families at one time came here from all over the world. Casting non-traditionally provides opportunities for myself and other actors to do roles that allow our artistry to grow. If more productions were like this, there would be a higher quality of American theater actor of all ethnicities.
Lia: What is it like to work with this particular group of actors?
Manu: These actors that I am privileged to share the stage with – Peter, James, Ray, Jeff, Johnny, and Matt – are really amazing. We have created these tough characters who are in complete competition with each other without losing our care and respect for each other as actors and now friends. Also each one of the actors has such a diverse and/or long career that there is always a wonderful theater or film story that is waiting to be told.
Lia: What have you been up to lately?
Manu: On stage, I played Captain Jack Absolute in The Rivals at Baltimore Centerstage, directed by David Schweizer. David is someone, who I’ve enjoyed working with. I have had the opportunity to play amazing roles like Cyrano, and Antipholus (The Boys from Syracuse), because of his continued belief in my talent. I am so thankful to him and to Christopher.
In the Spring, I was in concert with Frank London (of The Klezmatics) in Copenhagen. Over the summer, I was in a three week workshop of a new version of Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, as Peer with Grace Zandarski and Felix Ivanov directing. Some Moliere at the Lincoln Center Directors Lab, which was blast.
Lia: What’s next for you?
Manu: I’m traveling to Asia for a project, and then I’ll be in Manhattan on November 15 to host The Varli Awards, a big Indian Food Awards show.
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Lia Chang is an actor, a performance and fine art botanical photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist.
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