By James Karas
Have you ever met a man of good character where real estate agents are concerned?
That is the question (but concerning women) that Professor Higgins poses to Col. Pickering in My Fair Lady to which his own reply is “no.”
Anyone watching David Mamet’s 1984 play Glengarry Glen Ross about real estate salesmen would consider that reply almost complimentary to the cutthroats and jackals that we see on stage.
The salesmen are desperate men on the brink of emotional and financial collapse. It seems that they have no choice but to engage in any conduct however immoral, despicable, even criminal to make the next sale. They do not have souls or any ethical standards to sell or breach. They want a sale at any cost as a means of simple survival.
Shelley Levene (Stanley Townsend) confronts, begs, threatens, cajoles and bribes the office manager John (Kris Marshall) for “leads,” potential buyers or suckers that can be made to sign a contract. He is foul-mouthed and so desperate that there is no level that he will not sink to.
We see salesman Ricky Roma (Christian Slater) in action as he sits near a man in a bar and through mealy-mouthed philosophizing wheedles himself into James Lingk’s (Daniel Ryan) confidence and like a beast of prey goes for the jugular. He makes the man sign to buy land in Florida.
Dave Moss (Robert Glenister) is even bolder in his desperation. He is prepared to steal all his employer’s leads and sell them to his competitor. He dupes George (Don Warrington), a hapless patsy, into doing the actual theft while he goes to the movies and has a perfect alibi. Almost.
Marshall as the office manager initially appears as fair divider of the leads but is quickly revealed as corrupt, pitiless and ruthless to the bone.
Warrington gives a fine performance as George who may be a decent salesman but he is not too bright and is quickly hoodwinked into a criminal conspiracy and theft.
Sam Yates directs a powerful production that brings out the terror and desperation of the salesmen that leads them to act despicably.
Glenister, Slater and Townsend as the jackals are highly effective but I think they fall just a bit short of the animal brutality that Mamet demands. They bruise when they should bludgeon and the play demands a certain type of actor that has the animal instinct to do that. But that is a small complaint. You will be blown over by the production.
The play was written during the heyday of the Ronald Reagan era. Much has changed since then but with Donald Trump as president everything seems the same. The difference may by that Mamet’s salesmen were not vicious and inhuman enough. If only they could have taken a few lessons from Trump, they may have ended up as billionaires and presidents.
By the way, have you met a man of good character where real estate agents are concerned?
Glengarry Glen Ross by David Mamet continues until February 3, 2018 at Playhouse Theatre, Northumberland Ave. London, England.