Glengarry Glen Ross

Glengarry Glen Ross
By David Mamet. Flying Penguin Productions (in association with Brink Productions). The Bakehouse Theatre, Adelaide. 10 – 25 September 2021

David Mamet wrote Glengarry Glen Ross in 1983 then sent it to his mentor, Harold Pinter, asking for guidance about how to end the work. Pinter purportedly replied, “It’s perfect, stage it”.  Based on Mamet's own experience in a Chicago sales office in the late 1960s, when women weren't typically part of that world, the all-male play was originally staged in London in 1983 (winning an Olivier Award).  In 1984 the work was officially published then debuted in Chicago and on Broadway, winning the Pulitzer Prize for drama and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award.

Tightly and intelligently directed by Flying Penguins Productions’ founder David Mealor, Glengarry Glen Ross was initially scheduled for 2020 but… Covid.  Witnessing this nearly 40 year old play on stage in 2021 is not only relevant but chilling.  We have watched as America was brought close to ruin by a ‘real estate billionaire’ President and are reminded daily of the greed-filled ravages of capitalism still impacting our planet; therefore recalling that 80’s ‘greed is good’ ethos, even in a fictional sense, one can imagine a clear trajectory of immorality in business that has often brought more harm than good to society over that time.

Mamet is famed for his exacting and riveting written speech patterns where rhythm and colloquialisms define character, give authenticity to the fast-paced dialogue and grant an immediacy and believability to a story.  This production at the intimate Bakehouse Theatre assembles a powerful, energetic and talented ensemble cast who bring to life the absurdities, the hustles, the competitiveness and coarseness of a remorseless 1980s real estate business.  Each performer is enmeshed in their character, with honed mannerisms, perfected accents and impeccable transformations.  The atmosphere is electric, the relationships and status shifts are perfected so that you could present the entirety as an acting masterclass.  Kudos to both the rigorous direction and to the individual performers for such delineated and convincing characterizations.

As protagonist Shelly ‘the machine’ Levene, Rory Walker works with a range of emotion where his character morphs from sleazy confidence to desperation, shame to fury and manipulation to ruination.  The audience is enticed to some level of regret for his situation yet the next minute, feel the need to shower away the slime as Walker inhabits his deeply pitched ‘sales voice’ and persona with gusto.  Nicholas Garsden, in contrast, graces his harried George Aaronow character with an endearing naiveté and a physical carriage that exudes pathos.  The power of Garsden’s performance lies most often in the silences and stop/start mutterings of this character and some wickedly humorous entrances and exits.

Mark Saturno and Christopher Pitman as Richard Roma and Dave Moss represent salesmen at either end of a career path.  Both characters have enormous ‘front’ but Saturno’s Roma is polished, dressed to impress and a total charmer, verging on the psychopathic, while Pitman’s Moss is a messy, boorish, inadequate and desperate man.  Both actors have incredible dynamic range and spell, at times making it difficult to look elsewhere when they are on stage. 

Playing John Williamson, the oft berated office manager, Bill Allert elegantly characterizes this complex and dubious role.  In the powerful position to aid or destroy the ascendancy of each salesman by giving them first rate customer ‘leads’, or not, he is the catalyst for much of the interpersonal drama.  Allert shapes his unspoken moments with subtlety while his character is bombarded with vulgar abuse until his opportunity for smug one-upmanship is revealed.  It is around this role too where much of the misogyny plays out.  There is mention of manliness in tandem with success and weakness is denigrated, the word ‘fairy’ appearing at one point to describe Allert’s perceived lack of strength and business acuity.

The concept of meaningless ‘talk’ in contrast to meaningful ‘speaking’ is juxtaposed against wheedling and begging, lying, manipulating and scamming.  Nearly all the characters manfully joke about ‘just talking’ as a way to defend immoral or illegal behaviour and notions.  However, as they shift to seriousness and the stakes heighten, the language alters: ‘listen to me, I’m speaking to you’ or ‘I’m telling you something’.  Just like the over-priced, under-valued real estate they attempt to sell, ‘talk’ is nothing, however words (what you actually say) are important.  Particularly so when those words are embroidered into the vivid, dream-like sales pitches.

Both Chris Asimos and James Wardlaw have slightly smaller roles as, respectively, the detective and a gullible buyer.  These two exceptional actors both contribute hugely to the whole with nuanced humour, appropriate and insightful physicality and particularly in Wardlaw’s case, a sense of the human presence that the sales team are there to exploit.

David Mealor and the assembled creative team are also to be congratulated on the high quality production values and professional ambience.  Flawless, appropriate and ingenious set and apt costuming by designer Kathryn Sproul perfectly frame the narrative, as does the lighting design by Tom Kitney.  Composer/musician Quentin Grant provided the perfect sound and musical landscape for these Mamet characters to inhabit with hints of seedy jazz-noir bookending scenes.

The calibre of this production, the expert direction and brilliant performances are all the stuff of theatre magic.  This kind of excellence is the reason we wish to go to the theatre and why we should continue to do so.

Catch it if you possibly can and bravo Flying Penguin Productions.

Lisa Lanzi

Photographer: Shane Reid


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