The ogre of unbridled capitalism, the killer of values, the leveller of men – these are the vices peddled as virtues in David Mamet’s toxic tale Glengarry Glen Ross.
Real estate is just dirt, when you boil it right down, and Mamet’s pedlars of property sure are dirty. They’re selling shit soil, Florida swamps, to suckers, for their thirty pieces of silver commissions and a chance at a Cadillac as an ostentatious fossil fuel burning bonus. In Mamet’s view, they’d sell their own grandmothers for the same.
Ben Brock’s Blake begins the show in big swinging follow spot berating his salespeople, badgering, belittling, bullying them, threatening them with dismissal if they don’t deliver with the dollar.
We then focus on veteran salesman, Shelly Levene, once known as “The Machine”, now just a small cog, probably in need of replacement. His selling salad days are behind him and he’s struggling to stay in the game. He’s grafting and grifting and groveling to his office manager, Williamson, much to his own self disgust.
The character is somewhat akin to Death of a Salesman’s Willy Loman, and Mark Langham’s performance captures a similar self knowledge through desperation. A salesman has got to dream, it’s part of the territory, but navigating that territory gets much harder with the lack of a moral compass.
Williamson seems to lend a sympathetic ear, but again, the culture of the business is dollars and cents, and help is not a charity, it comes at a cost.
Williamson is played by Caroline Levien and the production retains the character’s first name, John, a case of “blind casting” that may confuse some.
Blind casting continues with Moss portrayed by Hannah Raven, who tries to cajole co-worker, George Aaronow, into a criminal act against the company. Coercion and seduction seem symbiotic in Raven’s portrayal, blokey with her dealings with George, sexually frissoned with her intercourse with hot shot hustler, Richard Roma.
Roma is all polished palaver, empty empathy energised by greed with the scruples of an invertebrate blood sucker. As played all too convincingly by Oliver Burton, one hopes that art is not imitating life when one learns from the programme notes that the actor daylights in the property industry. Caveat emptor!
Perhaps the only character we find any sympathy for is George, tossed about by the toxic tide of his work environment, struggling to keep his head above the dumping waves of abuse and persecution. Andrew Simpson’s portrayal brings out the affable amongst the bafflement, a strange innocence barely surviving in a noxious domain.
Tom Bannerman’s set design is the epitome of economy and grace, effortlessly transforming from Chinese restaurant to trashed real estate office augmented by Michael Schell’s impressive lighting. True to Mamet’s writing, director Louise Fisher never replaces the firm reins of realism with the loose bit of rhetoric.
New Theatre presents
Glengarry Glen Ross
by David Mamet
Director Louise Fisher
Venue: New Theatre | 542 King Street, Newtown NSW
Dates: 16 March – 10 April 2021
Tickets: $35 – $22