Though it’s now best-known as a feature film, Glengarry Glen Ross was originally a Pulitzer-Prize-winning stage play. This new production, from well-regarded local company Pretty Villain, is a faithful treatment of David Mamet’s script – bringing out its themes of dog-eat-dog competition, and of aggressive masculinity untrammelled by humanity. Set in a real-estate agency somewhere in Chicago, it charts the corrosive effects of a mercenary culture, where everyone’s job is always on the line and salesmen will stop at nothing to gain an edge on their peers.
For a Fringe play, this has a huge cast – and the individual performances are all good. I particularly enjoyed Larry Yates as the put-upon client, Mr Lingk, whose cowering frame and terrified eyes convey how comprehensively the salesmen have him in their thrall. Robert Cohen and Tom Dussek also deliver an engaging early double-act, with a supplicant Cohen echoing the overbearing Dussek in a neat parody of genuine conversation. There are interesting contradictions in these characters, too; Dussek’s salesman has a bullying manner yet espouses a progressive management style, while later we witness both unexpected acts of kindness, and incomprehensible cold-hearted betrayals.
But despite these high-quality elements, the production as a whole doesn’t quite come together. I wanted more force and intensity; to feel the raw, testosterone-fuelled desperation which drives this group of men to such casually inhuman behaviour. The bare-bones staging is stylish and effective – particularly in the first act, which arranges the six main characters side-by-side at tables as though they’re opponents in a panel debate – but it offers no help in establishing mood or atmosphere, or grounding the play in its early-Eighties timeframe.
And that retro feel is important, because Mamet’s much-lauded script has aged unevenly. It takes us back to a time when a few thousand dollars was a fortune, and when “leads” for potential clients were pieces of paper you could break into an office and steal. But Mamet’s core warning, that the betrayer is eventually always betrayed, is as relevant now as it ever was; and the men’s Faustian pursuit of money has acquired an added resonance, in the light of the scandals of recent years.
Director Roger Kay could make more of the accelerating conclusion, as the salesmen’s precarious world finally collapses into chaos. But there’s some poignancy around the fate of characters who, though dislikeable, inevitably echo elements of ourselves. If you’ve never seen the film, the twist ending will come as a genuine surprise – and it’s a fittingly bleak end to a story filled with duplicity and betrayal. All in all then, this is a decent ensemble production, which showcases a rightly celebrated script.