“When you die, you’re gonna regret the things that you don’t do,” and one of those things will be not seeing this production of Glengarry Glen Ross.
In a constrained and then expansive Bakehouse Theatre, four desperate, brash, scared characters buzz and crash and yell and draw breath and go again, like frenzied moths constantly colliding with a dying light bulb in their last pushes for survival, in a fierce creation of intense, mano a mano theatre.
David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize winning play charts the closing phase of a sales competition between four real estate salesmen – Shelly Levene (Rory Walker), Dave Moss (Christopher Pitman), George Aaronow (Nicholas Garsden), Richard Roma (Mark Saturno) – who are pitted against each other to finish top of the sales board by the end of the month with the winner receiving a cadillac, the second placegetter winning a set of steak knives, and the remaining two being fired.
If this sounds like a recipe for sweaty, simmeringly violent, theatre of bravado to you, you’re spot on. Director, David Mealor, has masterfully arranged, plotted, and placed his characters into his testosterone-drenched petri dish in a way that achieves maximum effect.
For example, one of the central duels in the show conveys a fully-realised game of cat-and-mouse between struggling salesman, Levene, and office manager, John Williamson (Bill Allert). The arc of their relationship and interactions is intriguing, like a marathon, knife-edged tennis final. Walker traverses a range of dispositions from down-and-out to cocky, with full transparency of his emotional status. This contrasts sharply against Allert’s sly, reserved, spiteful characterisation of a man who considers himself a pious puppet master, despite his ever-watchful openness to opportunistic deals. This key relationship shines a light on the dog-eat-dog dynamics in this office (and in many sales offices, particularly toxic ones), where hunter can become hunted in a moment, and vice versa.
The other great relationship dynamic in this production, involves Roma and Williamson. Early on, Saturno straddles and revs this powerful character and as he warms into his opening scene, he soon tames the baritone power of Roma, which he then guns as needed, from silent rumbling to full throttle. When Williamson blows a sale by interrupting Roma’s Machiavellian pleading with customer, James Lingk (James Wardlow), Saturno lets rip and we witness a most blistering dressing down, as Roma tears shreds off Williamson for not understanding the basic protocols of salesmanship. At this moment, Mamet floods the hitherto melange of noir-hued characters with shards of grey and white; there is honour and art among “thieves”.
Flying Penguin Productions in association with Brink Productions, have produced a night of bare-knuckled theatre, the essence of which is part Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, part David Williamson’s The Removalist, and part the Stanford Prison Experiment. Mealor has maintained superb modulation throughout this piece; voices are raised and fists pumped in good measure for effect. The kaleidoscope of status changes is mesmerising, and the multitude of comedic gems laced with pathos-ridden observations, are showcased in this exceptional night of theatre.
Kathryn Sproul has breathed depth, surprise, and realism into her set design, Tom Kitney has lit the stage without drawing attention, and Quentin Grant has applied sound design in a subliminal and sublime manner; at times bringing relief, at other times racheting up the brooding mood.
Chris Asimos’ Balen (the police detective) and Nicholas Garsden’s Aaronow, are both the runts of this pack. The detective’s status is dismissively downtrodden and Aaronow’s hapless, timid salesperson is well executed as a plaything by “the players”, especially Pitman’s Dave Moss who captures the spirit of being a bullyish loser with impotent menace.
If you love your theatre intense and full throttle, and you can stomach a proliferation of profanities, you must sign hard on the dotted line and see this show. If you end up going home with the steak knives, just remember to wash them first because they’ll be metaphorically bloodied after the clashes that enmesh these characters.