Thursday 22 February 2018

Theatre: Glengarry Glenross, Gate theatre, Dublin

Brian Lavery

One of the most surprising things about David Mamet's Pulitzer Prize-winning play is that it still has the power to surprise. It's like a verbal boxing tournament, with so much onstage savagery that, nearly three decades on, the script is unlikely to feel dated anytime soon.

Mamet warms up his audience with one-on-one bouts, in which struggling real estate salesmen are pitted against their ruthless manager, a gullible patsy, and a clueless colleague, over drinks in a cheap Chinese restaurant. After this brief introduction on fraying vinyl benches, the action moves to their shabby office. There, the sales guys turn on each other in a full-blooded linguistic brawl, complete with below-the-belt obscenities.

Despite a couple of weak links, this is a sharp version of a modern classic, thanks to actors with enough raw energy to carry the show on their own. Reg Rogers, as Richard Romo, the top seller of the rag-tag bunch, oozes charm at all times. He hypnotises his mark (Peter Hanly) in a relationship that disconcertingly falls somewhere between a romantic courtship and the bloody climax of a wildlife documentary.

Owen Roe, as the fading veteran Shelley 'The Machine' Levene, rants on breathlessly in the vain hope that one of the lines he throws out will stick and a listener just might start to buy his story. Literally.

New York-based director Doug Hughes coaxes tightly choreographed perform-ances from his cast, and injects enough humour to keep things from feeling too dark. Interestingly, he's joined at the Gate by set designer Neil Patel and lighting designer Michael Chybowski, making for an all-American creative team except for costume designer Joan Bergin.

And there's the plot, of course. It revolves around the salesmen's struggle to sell, with success measured by having their names listed at the top of the leader board. The Holy Grail that can get them there is the fabled Glengarry leads: a handful of index cards with names and phone numbers of potential customers, in a reminder of life in the analogue era. Competition is fierce; desperate measures ensue; the police get involved.

The impulse to screw other people runs way too deep in these men for them to exhibit anything like trust. The only winners in this game are Mitch and Murray, the faceless owners that employ these guys to peddle rip-off property deals in Florida and Arizona. For the losers on stage, the game is rigged.

Irish Independent

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