The devious machinations of modern capitalism provoke an awful lot of hand-wringing, but they sure make for a great spectacle. Though much of the contemporary media coverage of Wall Street tycoons tends to be negative, the fact that they receive so much interest in the first place indicates the undeniable fascination they elicit from viewers. Playwright David Mamet vividly captures these contradictions in his vulgar satire Glengarry Glen Ross, and they’re recirculated by first-time director Paul Flicker in his adaptation of the production that’s currently playing at the Segal Centre.
The play’s opening act consists of three extended conversations between different pairs of characters, each of which are dominated by a single person. In every exchange, one of the characters attempts to persuade the other of something, all to varying degrees of success. The three buyer/seller scenarios mimic the cutthroat capitalism of the 1980s Chicago real estate market, which all six of the characters are involved with in some capacity.
In the first scene, the aging salesman Shelley (R.H. Thomson) tries to persuade office manager John (Graham Cumbertson) to let him have access to “leads”—contact information for potential customers. In the next, agents George (Michael Perron) and Dave (Daniel Lillford) discuss a series of issues, including the problems of selling to people of Southeast Asian descent—a segment which was redacted from the 2005 Broadway revival of the play. As the conversation progresses, Dave tries to convince George to break into their office in order to steal “leads” and sell them to another agent. In the final scene of Act I, salesman Ricky (Brett Watson) discusses his philosophy on life with potential client James (Mike Patterson).
Act II reveals the consequences of these conversations. When the curtain rises, the leads have been stolen, Shelley has sold valuable real estate, and Ricky has talked James into buying property from him. The fallout from these events—and the details of how precisely they came to be—form much of the drama of the play’s final act.
Flicker and his ensemble have excellently drawn out the complexities of Mamet’s mockery of capitalism. The actors all take careful note of the cadences of Mamet’s dialogue, and their interactions capture the speed and humour that makes it so remarkable.
In particular, Thomson uses the full range of his voice to convey Shelley’s fluctuation between desperation and confidence. He gives a dynamic performance that reveals Shelley’s flaws and flaunts the complexities of his inner torment.
Watson’s performance also stands out. His smooth talk and impressive stage presence show the audience how he is able to talk James into buying from him with such ease. We, like James, are captivated by Ricky’s pitch, and can’t help but be inspired by his words.
Though not the strongest aspect of the play, several of its production choices are able to effectively mimic the action they support. The black couch and red backdrop of Act I (designed by Michael Eagan) evoke the seediness of the men who share the stage with it. The disarray of the office in Act II mimics the chaos which the men’s lives have been thrown into due to the upending of their order from the robbery. The contrast between the dim lighting of Act I and the vivid illumination throughout Act II (designed by Luc Prairie) helps to further reveal the change in the men’s lives that occurs between the two acts. The smooth jazz played in between scenes (composed by Dmitri Marine) represents the veneered vision of Americana that all the men buy into.
It’s good to have Glengarry Glen Ross brought back to the stage in any capacity, and Flicker’s production certainly does it justice. The strong performances across the ensemble and the sparse production choices serve to express the intricacies of Mamet’s dialogue. Though Mamet originally wrote his drama to mock the excesses of Reagan-era capitalism, the play doesn’t feel dated in the slightest. Although it’s tempting to think of society as having progressed beyond the dog-eat-dog world depicted by Mamet, the current Segal Centre revival of Glengarry Glen Ross reminds us of how little things have actually changed.