– by Jen Perry
Glengarry Glen Ross debuted in 1983 at the Royal National Theatre and won David Mamet a Pulitzer Prize one year later. It was adapted into a screen version in 1992 and is voted as one of Empire Magazine’s “500 Greatest Movies of All Time” list. Always having heard about Mamet’s quick-witted, fast-paced, street-style dialogue and penchant for colloquialisms and realistic interpretations of theatre, I was excited to finally see his work at the Heath Ledger Theatre. It’s a compelling venue. Beautifully designed and engineered, it is large enough to provide a national theatre experience, but small enough to engage individual audience members into a quasi-intimate setting.
The action begins in a Chinese restaurant, where half of the brisk 85 minute play takes place. Shelley “The Machine” Levene (Peter Rowsthorn) is pleading with office manager John Williamson (Will O’Mahony) for lucrative real estate leads. From there we are also introduced to Dave Moss (Kenneth Ransom) and George Arronow (Luke Hewitt), similarly displeased with their lack of quality leads, in a business where the client’s gullibility and wallet size is the difference between a sizeable commission and naught. Greed, tenacity and a shark-like instinct for weakness are the currencies for high stakes real estate brokerage. This is no more true than for Ricky Roma (Damian Walshe-Howling) and his newest contract James Lingk (Steve Turner), whose desperation to squelch his recent Floridian condo commitment is further proof of Roma’s slipperiness and deceit to make the bargain in the first place.
You’ll have seen these scenarios before but chiefly in regards to the stock market and life in the financial sector. The Wolf of Wall Street and Boiler Room, even Margin Call, highlight the amoral and unethical life cycles of what amount to glorified salespeople. While Mamet’s particular account is credible and rings true, it doesn’t have the same appeal today that it might have had at its 1984 premiere. In a post Global Financial Crisis world, we are savvier to what happens in these centres of elite property and financial centres of management. We may condemn them intellectually, but purvey them personally and publically. Not much has changed on that front.
What I find so disappointing about Black Swan’s production, is what I assume is its faithfulness to the Mamet’s original script. Director Kate Cherry stuck to the basics of what the script originally called for, an all-male (mostly white) cast list. Where is the ingenuity and creative stretching there? Black Swan is a culturally significant company and my favourites of theirs have been Australian focused (National Interest, The White Divers of Broome). While I of course encourage the staging of significant contemporary plays, I question Cherry’s decision to not think outside the box with her theatrical interpretations. What if this version illustrated the corruption and greed of mining industries in a Western Australian context? Something people are undoubtedly familiar with and compelled by would have made for a more enriching and thoughtful experience.
The acting is well paced, placed and enjoyable. Mamet’s darkly humorous and semantic-laden dialogue rolls off the tongues of those on stage. Each outburst and poetic soliloquy colours the richness of these characters, whose determination to succeed regardless of the cost, becomes the focal point of the piece. On paper, this play is a success. In person, it fell, unfortunately, a little flat.
Warning: frequent coarse language, adult themes, smoking of herbal cigarettes.
Glengarry Glen Ross is playing at the State Theatre Centre of WA until June 14th. For more information and to purchase tickets visit their website.
Images courtesy of Gary Marsh & Black Swan State Theatre Company.