The reason for reviving David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1984 play in our Trumptastic, Brexit-inflected times is obvious. It’s the American Dream gone bad. But in Sam Yates’ stilted and strangely surface-level production, Glengarry Glen Ross remains just that: obvious.
Salesmen (and, yes, they are all men – only two of them aren’t self-consciously ‘alpha’) screw their clients, themselves and everyone else in a desperate bid to bring in the bucks, all of them reeking of desperation and fighting to keep their balding heads above water.
It should resonate with our times – sales jobs and the people who do them have barely changed in decades, only a few billion dollars separates this motley crew from Trump and his ilk, and our commitment to unregulated capitalism feels a strong as ever. But this revival’s parade of vile conquests-and-cash men can’t seem to find a way to shed any light on a subject that is the subject of the moment. It feels like a period piece. These are yesterday’s men.
It falls to the mercurial charms of Yates’ cast to keep things interesting. Superstar Christian Slater as the super-slick Ricky Roma is as relaxed as he is repulsive: wolfish and endlessly watchable in his Wall Street wannabe camel wool. Daniel Ryan is heartbreak personified as his bumbling, abused prey James Lingk. Stanley Townsend shines as Shelley Levene, fleshing out a believable emotional being from Mamet’s single-issue character, while also playing a dangerous game with the fourth wall, which he aces.
The cast isn’t to know that British actors doing strained American accents is one of my theatre pet peeves. (And, while I’m at it, those fake cigarettes that stink like burning plastic and make my eyes water are also on my list. Just stop it.)
The playwright’s piercing, venomous dialogue is undeniable and it is ably spat forth, but there are more than a few occasions when the barbs don’t seem to land. A weird, dispassionate disengagement hangs in the air. Maybe it’s deliberate – a bid to display these shallow men’s selfish alienation from those they exploit and cheat. But too often it feels stilted with jumped lines and pre-emptive responses. It’s too cool by half, when passions should be rumbling beneath the surface.
This impression isn’t helped in the first half by the long, chatter-inducing curtain downs that accompany characters’ exits and entrances. And then there’s the peculiarity of the ‘80s vocabulary. It’s all “Chinkies”, the “penny-pinching Patels” and the “Indians”. Mamet’s may have got the benefit of the doubt and played this as social commentary in 1984, but in 2017 it just feels wrong.
Things do heat up in the second half, when Robert Glenister’s Dave adds his repugnant and compelling performance into the mix, and the sparks start to fly. But something about Glengarry Glen Ross feels too much like a love letter from toxic masculinity to toxic masculinity to be truly incisive in our troubled times.
Glengarry Glen Ross is at the Playhouse Theatre until February 3rd. For more details, click here.