Night Thoughts on Sheldon Levene

I’m in rehearsal for the role of Sheldon Levene in a professional production of David Mamet’s tragedy, Glen Garry Glen Ross.

At one point, Sheldon Levene raps out: “No, Jane no. Let’s wait, let’s back up here. I did-will you please? Wait a second. Please.” Nineteen beats: I counted them. The actor must get this perfectly since it is atonal music of damaged existence.

In the most primitive tragedy, the community asserts its continued existence only by sacrificing the Chosen One, who dances herself to death in Le Sacre.

Levene is the Chosen One of Glengarry, since he has ingested, far more than Moss, the whole deal of sales, success, individualism. He has eaten of the poison promise (of getting rich on real estate) and his fate is promised to the other members of the community: they too, if they live, shall be pitching dirt at the age of 60.

But Levene endures his Fate. Guy was in the Nam for 365 and a wakeup, and, being a s*tbag business major like the Marine interviewed by Mike Wallace at the Citadel of Hue during Tet, he faced death to get money to get a worthless Bachelor’s of Business Administration at Roosevelt.

Started like Moss selling cars on Western Avenue…there really are dealerships up and down the long, four lane, north-south arrow of Western…I bought an Escort there in 1996.

Got into property, made the bucks, got married, daughter, beautiful daughter, born in 1978. She excelled in ballet and modern dance but got leukemia while dancing for Alvin Ailey in 2001. Sheldon’s been financing her hospital stays at Swedish Covenant ever since.

He went to Hong Kong because he’d not been in the Marines, but in the Navy, the brown water Navy, sailing up and down rivers. He needed to escape a situation in Chicago, and remembered Wanchai with fondness. Plus, real estate wasn’t moving in 2000 whilst it was kicking ass in HK once people realized that the Chinese were going to be relatively cool.

But Levene’s tragedy, unlike Willy Loman’s, is a drive by. Arthur Miller consciously centered Willy Loman whereas Levene’s fall is like that of Icarus in Auden’s Musee des Beaux Artes:

In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

I realized the other day that despite the antique feel of Auden’s poem, it reflects current events of his time: for a friend, whose childhood was spent in slave labor camps in Nazi Germany and then in American refugee camps, still has dreams…of men, falling from planes. Russian and German fighters would have dogfights over the camps and men would jump from their planes: the German parachutes wouldn’t open: the Russians didn’t have them. The man would fall kicking, unnoticed.

Willy Loman is the center: but in reality, most of us live and die in sideshows, we’re bad Power Point, it is for most of us a freakshow.

Roma comes in as a sort of indifferent Chorus and witness, like the Chorus who admonishes Prometheus in Aeschylus, for both Roma and Levene are beyond desire, good and evil, Roma because he’s a psycho, Levene because he’s said Kaddish.

Edward G. Nilges, “Chosen One”, Conte on paper with Gimp modifications, 1 March 2011


2 Responses to “Night Thoughts on Sheldon Levene”

  1. spinoza1111 Says:

    I apologize now to any Vietnam era veterans while leaving my words unchanged. The fact is we’re all (considered) s*tbags, and I really have no write something like “guy was in the ‘Nam for 365 and a wakeup”, for I didn’t earn the right to use this language. But it communicates what I mean: Levene knew the shot and was ready to take the consequences when he robbed the office.

    He must be played with a certain gravitas for this reason. He is fallen, not broken.

  2. spinoza1111 Says:

    That should be “no right to write”

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