Directed by Louise Fischer, written by David Mamet, set design by Tom Bannerman
The New Theatre presents Pulitzer-prize-winning David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, a bleak and biting portrait of real estate agents and capitalism at its worst. Originally written for an all-male cast, this production casts women in the most questionable and immoral characters in an almost surreal depiction of an 80s-style Chinese restaurant and near-destroyed sales office.
The play follows the plots, schemes and plights of four salesmen who sell low-quality swampland to people who don’t really want it. They are pitted against each other in a sales “contest” in which first prize is a Cadillac, second prize is a set of steak knives, and third prize is – you’re fired.
After a hilarious reminder to turn off our f**king pagers, we open on Ben Brock’s Blake, an import from the 1992 film, who sets up the pecking order. The bullying was intimidating enough, and Brock’s large presence added a ferocious edge. Overall, this monologue didn’t add as much as it could have to the performance, especially since we weren’t sure whether Blake was from Sydney, Chicago or New Jersey.
The choice to cast women as men, and retain their masculine names, added an important dimension to the text that brought it into the 21st century. Hannah Raven shone as Dave Moss, bringing a sexy and manipulative edge to a character that allowed her to explore the pressures of the patriarchy and the capitalist machine. Caroline Levien’s John Williamson was powerful and flawed, being both too comfortable and yet extremely uncomfortable in her seat as the holder of the ever-precious ‘leads’ that every salesman covets. Meg Shooter struggled to be a commanding police officer in Baylen, but this added to the messy layers of power and interests that criss-crossed all over Tom Bannerman’s uneven platforms. These platforms helped to make power dynamics really clear, despite being somewhat clunky for actors to traverse at times.
Another honourable mention goes to Andrew Simpson’s George Aaronow, whose delightful lisp, short-sleeved shirt and salt-and-pepper moustache added an almost cute dimension to the only almost moral salesman in the play.
The set and lighting design was unusual and simple, allowing a quick and impactful transition from low-lit restaurant to paper-strewn sales office, post-robbery. The Brechtian transition, sans blackout, was exciting and clean to effectively set up the chaos for scenes to come. Key moments of wonder included the change in power when Oliver Burton’s Richard Roma stepped up to the platform below Levien’s Williamson, highlighting his shorter stature and over-the-top anger and the transition from dark reds to bright whites during the scene change.
This production was an interesting exploration of toxic masculinity and the death of the American dream. Although it began to make some excellent points, some were not entirely executed and had to be clawed back from a sub-par opening monologue. Perhaps a more radical approach, such as an all-female cast, or a more modern interpretation of the text, could have brought this into memorable risk-taking territory. The efforts of the ensemble should not go ignored, and it’s worth seeing just for the beginnings of a contemporary version of the classic satire.
Glengarry Glen Ross is playing at the New Theatre, Newtown NSW until 10 April. Tickets range from $22 – $35.
About the author
Charlotte is a poet, writer and lover of theatre born in Bathurst, raised in Wagga and educated in Wollongong, NSW. Her works have been published in Voiceworks, Baby Teeth Journal, Pine the Zine and The Tertangala. During her school years at Wollongong High School of the Performing Arts, she received the CAT award for ‘Best Youth Actress in a Leading Role in a Play’ for her performance as ‘Meg’ in Away. Other favourite roles she’s played include ‘Ruth’ in The Pirates of Penzance and ‘Beatrice’ in The Servant of Two Masters. Now that she’s almost grown up, Charlotte is an almost-admitted lawyer and would much prefer to write about or for the stage than be on it.