Play: Glengarry Glen Ross

Okay, so this isn’t technically an Irish play… the playwright, David Mamet, is American. However, it was produced and performed at an Irish theatre this year, so I’m adding it to the list. Theater buffs, this post is all for you.

Last night, Mr. Shifflett and I saw Glengarry Glen Ross performed at the Gate Theatre, which is known for being one of Dublin’s avant-garde theaters. It was founded in 1928 and brought edgy European plays to Dublin, contrasting with the Abbey Theatre (more on that later this week), which produced Irish works. The theater itself was small and a little threadbare on the inside, but the production was absolutely incredible.

Glengarry Glen Ross (GGR from here on out) is the story of 1980s American salesmen who are trying to sell worthless properties to poor saps over the phone. The people they’re trying to sell to are called “leads.” If you sell a lot of this worthless property to these people, you qualify for the “prime leads,” or people who are actually more likely to buy property, so you can make more money. Four salesmen work for this company, and their bosses are having a contest this month to see who can sell the most property to these leads. First prize is a Cadillac; second is a set of steak knives; and third and fourth prizes are getting fired. Obviously no one wants to get fired, but how can the guy in fourth place, Shelley Levene, sell enough property when he  can’t get the prime leads? In Act Two, however, the game changes: the leads have been stolen, and everyone’s a suspect.

This play has been compared to Death of a Salesman and The Iceman Cometh, both plays about the role of salesmen and the necessity of dreams, the American dream, even if it’s hollow. But here, there is no dream: there isn’t even greed. There’s senseless, bloodthirsty competition for the sake of winning, just because it’s what the characters have always done. Glimpses of their humanity – a character’s apparent concern for a daughter, as it’s hinted (especially in the film version) that she might be sick – are denied us. We laugh and laugh at the snappy (profanity-riddled) dialogue, characteristic of all of Mamet’s work, but in the end we realize we’re laughing at a tragedy.

Mamet’s dialogue is a wonder to hear. It’s musical, it has an incredible rhythm, and it sounds real – the stammers, the pauses, the repetitions, the self-interruptions, are all written by Mamet, and it sounds almost like real speech. It’s too real, too good, to be real speech – it’s hyper-realistic, and it’s unlike any other dialogue you’ll hear on stage. Each character has their own quirk of speech – one character interrupts himself mid-word, one character always repeats himself, another never does. It’s just plain great writing.

In this version, in addition to the fantastic acting, I think I was most impressed by the set: they built an office on stage for the second act, and trashed it. It really looked like an actual, run-down, midtown office, and one that had been broken into to boot. There was (imitation) glass scattered across the floor, papers everywhere, dripping water stains on the ceiling beams, scuff marks and scratches on the desks and filing cabinets – they even added dust to the wood paneling. It’s probably the most realistically and intricately detailed set I’ve ever seen. I can’t imagine designing or building something like that.

All in all: extraordinarily well done. I’d love to talk to some of our school’s theater classes (or just theater fans) about Mamet and producing a play like this.

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