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Glengarry Glen Ross


seriousboys presents GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS by David Mamet at Theatre 19 (the old Darlinghurst Theatre, Potts Point.

From Anne Deane:

GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS by David Mamet (1983), is a very violent play:highly charged, vividly concentrated and bloody with verbal slaughter. This is RESERVOIR DOGS with filofaxes, THE WILD BUNCH with staplers. It is also the most perfect example of Mamet’s black comedies, satirising the iniquitous back-biting mores of the times. Its violence resonates in every line, straining the boundaries of the printed page, spilling out in meticulously controlled arias of anxiety and panic. To the salesman in this play, fear is the motivating factor. Willy Loman’s hold on his career may have been precarious, but his anxieties were at least only fully realised at an advanced stage. In Mamet’s Darwinian nightmare, fear is an omnipresent: it is a permanent pollutant that can never really be eradicated. For these men, there is no rest, only exhaustion. They live on their nerves, anxiety fuelling adrenaline already in overdrive. [A].

RAT-A-TAT, RAT-A-TAT, CLATTER -CLATTER, KABOOM-KABOOM, WHOOSH, KA-BANG, KA BANG. One hears and feels imaginatively the shaking and physical, rattling threat of, perhaps, one of the Chicago Transit Authority’s (CTA) trains, launching, lurching past us on the overhead tracks, as we sit bewildered, shocked at the adrenalin machismo driven energy of the effects and acting of this production – a crazed alpha-male train running un-braked across the tracks of Mamet’s words, text. Not de-railing, but, not taking on any, many, passengers, either. Those passengers getting on, that get on, surely, know the play, come with pre-knowledge of the ‘time table’ of the text. Have an outline of the journey – its stations and sights/sign posts. The others just sitting there, feeling the wind and wondering what the “fuck’ was that about?

Composer and Sound Designer, Marty Jamieson hurls this production with the actors, the seriousboys company, under the direction of Marcus Graham, onto an empty grey walled space, with the lighting hanging, poised, visibly over all, reverberating, echoing savagedly throughout the auditorium. KA-BOOM: the lights come up and two actors, Barnaby Goodwin (Shelley Levene) and Brett Heath (John Williamson) stand upstage facing each other, profile to the audience and begin an electric sound clatter of the text. It sets up the “run-away-train” pace, the unvarying loud volume of the textual delivery, with the irritant blast of much unvaried vocal pitch, that concludes after only  an hour, yes, just one hour, for this performance – a world record time, I should imagine, for this play. A Fast Track journey!

It has been a visceral experience, for sure, if not a storytelling one. Feelings, from being played by the appeals to our sense subjective responses to the effects of the production stylistics, commanded by Mr Graham, dominate any detailed speech-act , objective knowledge of the machinations, mechanisms of this detective story, this psychic plumbing of desperate individuals, this cultural evisceration of the United States at a particular time in recent history.

Of, even today, still, I reckon – hence, its classic status.

In this production, each of the actors, more, and hardly ever less, bang out the scenes in what, I guess, is based around the Meisner technique of impulse. Each word, phrase and sentence building to paragraphs of pursuits of objectives, drawing, coming from the actor’s impulse, built from the given circumstances of the context of the scene. It is a legitimate approach to the work of Mamet. Mamet being a ‘control-freak’ around the orchestration of his text, through massive instructions to the actors, by his challengingly abundant use of syntax to achieve that. Mr Mamet is notoriously difficult to play at speed, because of that design of his work. So dense is the thicket of the syntactical clues on the pages to play Mr Mamet’s texts that, the best music parrallel that I can make analogy to, is to look at the notation marks of the scores of say, Rossini or Mozart. The famous line in Peter Schaffer’s play, AMADEUS, from the Austrian Emperor to Mozart, “Too many notes”, could just as easily be transposed to Mr Mamet as, “Too many syntactical marks.” No wonder the chinese whispered remark of Mr Mamet’s declaration of, “Just say what I’ve written, and do what I’ve written, and nothing else is necessary.” In other words, just ‘close read’ him (any good playwright), battle through the textual clues – it is tedious work, never more so than with Mr Mamet, but of course, in the end, of unbounded value – think them out, not feel them out, and you will have most of the solution to the writer’s intent.

However, the impulse to do, to gesture, to speak must be built from the response of the character, characters, one is engaged with. It is not just the speaker that is vital for the story to be read, but, in my estimation, the active listening of the listener, that is of paramount importance, for the audience, to be able to understand what is happening between the characters, other than impassioned indulgence from the verbaliser. The listener is more important in the scene, than, even the speaker, I say. Time after time, in this production, the actor speaking was rushing through his text, not reading the effect of the action that they had made on the character they were talking too, and not constructing their argument, their impulse, from that information. The audience hearing the speaker, look to the receiver, to see what the impact has been, and either the character-listener will reply, or, will still be ‘thinking’ out his choices, offering an obstacle for the speaker to overcome, to use. It is from this reaction, this registering – look at anything Meryl Streep as put on film, to see what I am talking about – this silent impulse, that the speaker takes as his cue to continue, or not. It is this interaction that teaches the audience how to receive the work, to understand what is happening.

The impulse of the work from the speaker, in this production was mostly inadequate for it was rarely coming from the observation of their protagonist. It was anticipated, learnt energies of expression. Unthinking, mechanical rat-a-tat-tat. Mostly emotional parroting, little real thinking going on, just recitation. There was not enough communication between the protagonists. Most of the time, few of the listeners, the verbal passives in the scenes, registered any complex receiving of information, or presented active thought pursuits/obstacles in reply.

Or, was it because of clumsy staging decisions, I could not read them? (the Opening scene, for instance.)

Most difficult to believe as an active collaborator in his scenes was the work of Joe Addabbo who seemed to be enjoying himself immensely, but, hardly acting with the others, ‘giving’ to the other actors, maybe, but ‘taking’, building his performance from them, never, not at all. He simply parroted his way through his scenes blithely underwhelmed by anything the other actors, even the audience, was offering him. It was a very much, “Watch me act” performance.The others could have put their ‘undies’ on their heads and nothing would have derailed the blind ecstatic joy that this performer was having in this role, one iota. He wouldn’t have seen it or be able to use it. No real impulse work going on here, just learnt instruction and habit from rehearsal. And, as he was playing, Richard Roma, a central figure to the drama, this created a great big hole to the veracity of the reality of the production.

Hunter McMahon (George Aaronow); Nick Hunter (James Lingk); and Anthony Taufa (Baylen – the small detective role) were, relatively, anchored and alert to the others in their scenes to construct a collaborative performance. Ivan Topic (Dave Moss – one of the other central characters) struggled to clarify his postures as character in the production.

There is no interval, here, and this two act play,with three scenes in the first act, set, originally, in a booth at a Chinese restaurant, and the fourth scene, the second act, in a continuous time action, is set in a ransacked Real Estate Office somewhere in Chicago, during a police enquiry into a robbery, not indicated with any helpful design elements, except one chair.

Leslie Kane, an expert on the work of David Mamet:

This is a play about power. This is a play about guys, who when one guy is down … the guy who’s up then kicks the other guy in the balls to make sure he stays down. Much of the success of this award-winning play (Pulitzer Prize – 1984) issues from its distinctly robust and electrifyingly vital language, at once rhythmic and ribald, elliptical and illusory, comic and corrosive. Indeed, as John Gross correctly noted (Tragedies of Good and Bad Manners, Sunday Telegraph, 26th June, 1994) “GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS” lives above all through its language, in which inspired elisions and explosive invectives are peppered with “perfectly timed verbal feints and body blows”. [B]

It is not just the speaking of this language that is meaningful, it is the personalised thought processes of the actors in character that is essential as well. The thoughts built from the registering of spoken text and gestured actions. This production at the tempo, speed, that it is played at, does not give much opportunity for that to be read, if, it happens at all.

Further, Leslie Kane:

GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS is one of the finest post-war American plays, it has been         characterised as a “sardonic, scabrous and really brilliant study of a human piranha pool where the grimly Darwinian law is swallow or be swallowed”; “a savage microcosm … (of) the urban jungle”; ” death in the capitalist food chain”; “one of the most exciting verbal concoctions of the modern theatre”; and a dramatisation of “the Tocquevillian connection between the public self – the hurlyburly of those caught within a business-as-sacrament world – and the private self -the anguished characters’ inner reality. Its four real estate salesmen have been labeled everything from “jacketed jackals” to “pedlars of false dreams”, “predators preying on susceptible prospects”, ‘pitchmen caught in the entrepreneurial act”, and “fast-talking bottom feeders” whose brand “of gutter English [is] caustic enough to rust pig iron.” [B].

If you get off on the after affect of the alpha male sense of uncluttered charismatics, and/or you have some pre-knowledge of the play, you may enjoy this production. I have seen better and more rewarding productions of GLENGARRY GLEN ROSSS than this one. Still, the language is, if caught in the experience, breathtakingly abrasive and thus stimulating even in this train wreck of a production. It is only of an hour in duration, as well.

P.S. No Set or Costume or Lighting designer were indicated in the program. A shame because it looked great. Crisp and clean.
No biography of the writer, either, in the program. seriousboys, just one more of the Sydney theatre companies, ignoring the inspirational source of their work.


1: DAVID MAMET’S GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS. TEXT AND PERFORMANCE. Edited by Leslie Kane. Studies in Modern Drama, Volume 8. Garland Reference Library of the Humanities Volume 1817. Garland Publishing Inc – 1996.

A. The Discourse of Anxiety by Anne Deane.

B. Introduction by Leslie Kane.

2: DAVID MAMET IN CONVERSATION, edited by Leslie Kane. The University of Michigan Press – 2001.

3: GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS by David Mamet.Methuen. London – 1984.


4 replies to “Glengarry Glen Ross”

  1. Hey,

    Go. See what you think.

    The play is a masterpiece and survives well enough for a 'fan' to get something from it.

    It will save from having to read it, again, this year.


  2. Kevin is spot on and on the money again.

    This is a great play by a master playwright.

    However, this production could not and does not do it any justice. It was like watching a bunch of actors doing a line run.

    Kevin's insight -although a little too long for the quality and the length of the production it needed to be.

    Was precise.

  3. That was $40 down the drain. I've read the play a couple of times and so was familiar with the story but the person I went with hadn't – and left being almost as unfamiliar with it because she just couldn't keep up! I don't know if they were going for the record for shortest run of a play ever, but it was at the expense of someone being able to understand what was being said and maybe enjoying it. Particularly the first scene – there's a lot of repetition in the dialogue and half finished sentences and thoughts so it needs to be really clear.
    I agree with the previous comment (that it seemed like a line run). I'd read a couple of other unfavourable reviews before I went – I probably should have heeded the warning.

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