Hateful men drive Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross

Glengarry Glen Ross GigCity EdmontonPlaywright David Mamet hit the American theatre scene in the early 1980s with the brutal impact of a clenched fist in the gut. He did not write plays about delicate family dynamics or tender romance. His world was a savage one filled with rage and confrontation.

The intensity of his colourful, lean, paint-peeling language at first seemed almost off-putting, but it is the language of lower depths where most of his characters reside. It might be said that as his plays progress, the words achieve a kind of obscene street poetry.

Mamet had a profound effect on 20th century theatre and there are few dramatists who can touch him when it comes to generating theatrical excitement. After he wrote some smaller works like Sexual Perversity in Chicago and American Buffalo he took his rightful place as one of America’s best playwrights with his 1984 masterpiece Glengarry Glen Ross. It’s been presented on Broadway three times and was made into an Oscar winning movie.

It opens tonight in a new production from Walterdale Theatre.

“Glengarry Glen Ross” are the (made-up real estate) names of some sketchy Florida properties being sold by a tormented group of Chicago salesmen. With their jobs and lives on the line, the driven agents ruthlessly do anything to sell to the gullible marks even as they tear away at each other in their boiler room office.

The all-male play starts in a downscale Chinese restaurant where, in three taut duologues, we meet most of the salesmen and get some idea of their empty despairing lives. Two of them talk vaguely of robbing the place and stealing the prized “leads” – the most promising prospects.  When that actually happens, the cops are called in and it sets off an encounter with accusations, denials, lots of shouting and increasingly dramatic revelations.

Director Curtis Knecht has assembled a strong cast of Walterdale regulars. The company is well balanced and seem perfectly at home in Mamet’s staccato dialogue with speeches overlapping each other, routine obscenities and off-centre cadences. Stand-outs are Dale Wilson as Shelly (The Machine) Levene. He was once red hot but now has fallen off the board. He feels he just needs a fresh start. Haunted and desperate, he tries to buy his way back into the game but hasn’t got the money or the go-for-the-jugular smarts he used to have. Roma (John Evans) is now top dog. He’s got the smarmy smile of a thousand sleazy deals and the morals of an alley cat. Alex D. Mackie is Williamson, the young boss. He’s on the take, but in over his head and the target of much of the venom from his employees.

No one here is likeable in the slightest – but we become completely absorbed in the merciless relationships and fascinated by how low these despicable people are willing to go, deceiving themselves as much as their clients.

The dance-of-death is all set to the music of Mamet’s obscenity-laced dialogue. These men are sharks, all in varying degrees of breakdown, who swim in a brutally unforgiving sea.

Glengarry Glen Ross plays at the Walterdale Theatre through April 16.


Photo by Dan McKechnie