Talking Movies

June 1, 2012

Glengarry Glen Ross

David Mamet won a Pulitzer in 1984 for his black comedy about desperate real estate agents, and this Gate theatre production is a note-perfect rendition.

The first act is almost the definitive Mamet, being three two-hander scenes in which one person struggles to get a word in edgeways while the other tells them to stop interrupting. Shelley Levene (Owen Roe), an over the hill salesman, tries to cajole, bully, and beg his younger office manager Williamson (John Cronin) for the vital ‘leads’ without which he doesn’t stand a chance of making it onto the leader-board for sales completed; which decides who wins a Cadillac at the end of the month, and who gets fired. The other agents Moss (Denis Conway) and George (Barry McGovern) complain about the cruelty and unfairness of this process and ‘talk’ about ripping off their own office. Finally a timid man Lingks (Peter Hanly) is accosted by the freight-train of confidence that is salesman Ricky Roma (Reg Rogers); who swans into the Chekhovian second act so drunk on ‘closing’ Lingks and thus winning the Cadillac that it takes him a while to notice that the office has been ransacked and the leads and closed contracts stolen…

Mamet’s rhythmic, profane, overlapping dialogue is one of the most distinctive theatrical accomplishments of the past half-century; and every actor in this production excels in its delivery. The famous finagling by Moss and George of ‘talking’ and ‘speaking’ about a robbery is performed exquisitely by the great McGovern and Conway. They also nail the subsequent indignation of their characters at being questioned by Patrick Joseph Byrnes’ no-nonsense cop, while Cronin is magnificent as the overwrought Williamson yelling at George to just for the love of God go for lunch… If there is a flaw in this production it’s that Cronin at times can appear nervous at sharing the stage with such heavyweights of Irish theatre, but even that flaw works for the play as Williamson is subject to such vicious verbal abuse by these men (whose need to belittle him outranks their instincts for self-preservation) that being occasionally nervous in their presence is entirely in character. The two showy parts though are the salesman leading a life of noisy desperation and the scenery-chewing Pacino role.

Director Doug Hughes steered the original production of Doubt to Tony glory some years ago before reviving Mamet’s Oleanna on Broadway and he is alert to every nuance of the text. He coaxes from Roe a performance that alternates between despair, self-delusion, and arrogance as Levene, and from Broadway actor Rogers a barnstorming powerhouse of bombast, hostility, and cunning as Roma. Levene can seem like Mamet’s riff on Miller’s tragic hero Willy Loman, with the uncaring Williamson as a version of the son of Loman’s old boss who doesn’t care about Loman’s service to the firm and humiliates him. Ricky Roma though is all Mamet. The new face of capitalism isn’t like Miller’s successful brother Ben Loman, indeed he’s Levene’s protégé, and, in his outrageous machismo, actually behaves like one of Tom Wolfe’s Masters of the Universe on Wall Street, despite being a small-time property salesman. The impressively decrepit ransacked office set by In Treatment designer Neil Patel is an apt setting for the comings and goings of men deluding themselves about the American Dream.

Mamet’s attack on ruthless capitalism is given its full punch here by a cast who bring out the comedy and the cruelty – essential theatre.

5/5

Glengarry Glen Ross continues its run at the Gate Theatre until July 14th.

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