Man, was David Mamet angry or what when he wrote Glengarry Glen Ross? From the opening scene to the epilogue, this dialogue-packed production is full of the most colourful and lewd insults you are likely to hear. Did I feel intimidated? A little. Was I surprised by some of the language? Yes. Were the characters, plot and themes convincing? You bet!
Glengarry Glen Ross is the story of a mismatched group of salesmen working in a real estate agency owned by Mitch and Murray. They remain unseen, but the office culture and environment they have created and sanctioned enables greed to thrive. The mantra of ‘A-B-C’, Always Be Closing, has been indoctrinated into the men. The only thing that matters is ‘closing the deal’ and any tactic to achieve this end is applauded.
In Florida is a land estate called ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’. A sales drive is to take place and John Williamson (Caroline Levien), the office manager, oversees issuing a batch of A-grade leads to the team. The first prize is a Cadillac. Second place is a set of steak knives. Beyond second is the “opportunity” to go and work elsewhere. Tension is running high as valued leads are waved in front of the noses of each team member. Resentment builds in the mind of Dave Moss (Hannah Raven), who voices an idea to stage an office burglary, steal the leads and sell them to their main competitor. Over the course of the next 24 hours, the lure of sales greatness is balanced by the reality of hollow, meaningless results. Dirty tricks, deceit, lies and manipulation are the tools of this sales team. Their desperate attempts to get onto the winner’s board will lead to disaster, yet none are self-examining or guilt-ridden.
The top gun salesman is Richard Roma. Performed by Oliver Burton, Richard has developed his own work code, devoid of ethics or morality. He has been on a winning streak, but when his latest client, James Lingk (Adrian Adam), arrives unexpectedly at the office wanting a refund, Richard’s sleaze and trickery ride roughshod over Lingk’s best interests. As he likes to tell his colleagues: “You never open your mouth until you know what the shot is”.
The old dog in the team is Shelley “The Machine” Levene (Mark Langham). Once a top performer, he is languishing in self-pity and reminisces of his great successes of yesteryear. He hates the poor quality of the leads given to him, lamenting to John Williamson: “Where did you get this? The Morgue?”. Another salesman is George Aaronow (Andrew Simpson). Lacking self-confidence, he is out of his depth – a fish out of water in this tank of sharks. Possibly the only hero in the story, George, rises to the occasion as his conscience gets the better of him. Not that that is considered a virtue by anyone else. Other cast members are Baylen (Meg Shooter) and Blake (Ben Brock).
Ably directed by Louise Fischer, Glengarry Glen Ross is an engrossing, dramatic black satire. Acting is tight and animated, whilst the staging is innovative and clever. Dividing the stage into different levels symbolises the hierarchy of success operating in the office. Transformation from Chinese restaurant to real estate office is remarkably effective. Originally written for an all-male cast in the 1980s, having female actors in key roles works well.
Glengarry Glen Ross is a fly-on-the-wall expose of high-pressure sales environments and stands as a classic and most entertaining American drama.