Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross at Minneapolis Theatre Garage
David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross inhabits a strange place in the culture, known more for inspiring sad-sack salesman Gil Gunderson on The Simpsons and its explosive use of profanity than for its actual content. The play is a brutal, searing, and triumphant work, and the current production by Torch Theater lives up to the show's pedigree.
Only men inhabit the world of Glengarry Glen Ross, and most of them are cut from the broad-shouldered, legs wide apart, belly-out side of the equation. If the play were set in the modern day, you could easily see them spending their evenings watching Fox News or cruising around with talk radio blaring from their cars.
You can't show weakness in this world or you'll get eaten alive—and not just by potential clients but by your fellow salesmen, even those you might think of as friends. The core situation here has long passed into popular culture. The salesmen at a Chicago-area real estate office are at the end of a monthlong contest. The winner gets a Cadillac. The losers get fired. Even those comfortably on top can't let up for a moment, so they spend their time trying to draw new clients into their less-than-savory property or in pushing down their in-house rivals.
Set over two days, the play first follows the salesmen as they try to improve their lot, complain bitterly about what they don't have, or work over a stranger to get him to invest in the property. Act Two opens after a break-in at the office, which upsets the regular order: Now everyone needs to scramble to find out where they stand in this new world.
Sitting far in the bottom at the beginning is Shelly "The Machine" Levene, whose glory days seem in the past and who is desperate to make any sale. Like a modern-day Willy Loman, Levene has already fallen into the abyss, but he can't see it. Instead, he spends the first scene of the play pleading with his boss to give him the "premium" leads that will offer him a chance to finally close a deal.
We get a glimpse of his former glory in Act Two, after he has finally closed a major deal and finds himself back on top. This Levene is cocksure and willing to tell anyone who will listen about his conquest. He also takes the opportunity to berate the office manager, Williamson, who all of the salesman fear and hate, because he not only controls the precious good leads but also is seen as a pen-pusher who doesn't know what's what when making a deal.
The other three salesmen can be easily slotted at first. Roma is a smooth talker at the top of his game; Moss is like a bull in a china shop who seems to bully his way to sales; and Aaronow is a weakling who lacks the killer instinct needed to thrive—or at least survive—in this world.
Glengarry Glen Ross offers plenty of chances for actors to dig into the roles and situations, though it's also easy for the action to quickly overheat and turn into a contest of who can shout "fuck" the loudest. The seven actors keep the heat on simmer, letting the rage that inhabits each member of the sales force emerge as the situations develop. They are led by Terry Hempleman as Levene, who turns in a terrific performance as the crushed-by-life salesman. Throughout, there is a sense of fear behind his every word, even when he is recounting his latest victory or berating Williamson. The only time it seems to completely fade is when he aids Roma in trying to deceive a client with cold feet.
Patrick Coyle plays Roma as smooth and slick, someone who is always thinking about how to turn the current situation to his favor. Still, there are cracks, especially when he sees a sale—and his Cadillac and $6,000—slip out of his hands.
Ari Hoptman uses his well-honed comic timing for Aaronow, making the character a tad broader, but also giving his loser character—really, what has driven him into this job?—a bit more sympathy. Peter Carlin as Williamson and James Michael Detmar as Moss let the rage rise a lot closer to the surface. Carlin's simple "fuck you" to Levene after he has finally crushed the salesman is filled with far more contempt than you would think possible with two simple syllables.
Glengarry Glen Ross moves with speed and efficiency, due both to Mamet's economical script and the tight directing from David Mann. That not only gives the play lots of energy, but it highlights the stink of desperation that hovers around these characters. This is a world that moves quickly, and if you can't keep up, you will be left along the road to die.
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about arts and culture events in Minneapolis & St. Paul and offers you won't hear about anywhere else.