Alex Dimitriades stars in this MTC production of David Mamet's Pulitzer-winning dog-eat-dog drama
There’s a hell of a lot of talk in David Mamet’s plays. Famous for his scattergun approach to dialogue, his characters tend to overload and bully each other with belligerent wordplay. Whether it amounts to anything lasting is a question that wouldn’t occur to his characters, so determined to survive and dominate, but does come to mind watching MTC’s revival of his best-known play, Glengarry Glen Ross.
Ostensibly a robust and embittered critique of capitalism, and the dog-eat-dog masculinity required to bring it to fruition, Mamet’s Pulitzer-Prize winner is a lean and hungry beast. It demands very tight performances, but also allows for bravura turns. The late withdrawal of Steve Bisley from the production meant John McTernan took over a central role at the eleventh hour, and the rhythm of the text is affected by the actor reading from the script. This will cease to be a problem in the coming weeks, though, and doesn’t diminish the play’s power.
If a perfect rendering of this play leaves an audience feeling smeared and unclean, if success means an unresolved sense of disgust, then this production could be said to have failed. It does, however, go a long way to restoring humanity to the piece, a palpable sense of lives lived outside the stultifying testosterone of the workplace. Whether this is a bad thing might depend on your point of view.
The plot is certainly tight. In a ferocious sales environment, Shelly [John McTernan] feels particularly vulnerable after a poor run, and desperately pleads with the new office manager John [Nick Barkla] to send him some decent leads. Meanwhile Dave Moss [Greg Stone] decides he’s had enough, and tries to win over colleague George [Rodney Afif] in a risky and illegal plan to rob the firm and sell the leads to a rival.
The first act is made up of three two-handers, all set in a Chinese restaurant, mainly consisting of exposition and mood setting. The second act takes place in the office the next day, with the shop-front glass broken, and the cops on site investigating the crime. The only person who positively reeks of bravado is Richard Roma [Alex Dimitriades], the insistent and belligerent alpha-male.
Alkinos Tsilimidos directs with precise naturalism, which in this context makes more sense than his previous MTC outings, notably his diminishment of the Abstract Expressionist Mark Rothko in Red. It does result in a slightly muted delivery of the dialogue but the up side is a muscular braggadocio in the performances, if not exactly dangerous, then at least full of bluster.
Some of the actors nail the rhythm of the speech, and shine as a result. Greg Stone is superb, a textbook lesson in Mamet-speak. Dimitriades is fine as the slick and narcissistic Roma, even if he fails to bring out the underlining horror of diminishment inherent in the role. McTernan is great under difficult circumstances, a moving reminder of the dignity and terror of redundancy. Given time to settle into the role, he may well prove definitive.
The set [Shaun Gurton] is magnificent, evocative in the first act and almost breathtakingly detailed in the second, and the lighting [Nigel Levings] and costumes [Jill Johanson] inconspicuously clever. This is a production that, despite obvious teething problems, will grow into a richness and savagery that will, no doubt, suit the material. Many of the play’s issues are still undeniably resonant: the market’s indifference to humanity, the barren endgame of one-upmanship. If it all feels rather blasé these days, surely that is our fault. What was cautionary has rather disturbingly turned commonplace.