Soulpepper’s Glengarry Glen Ross

In Toronto Theatre on June 8, 2010 at 5:24 pm

You know you’re about to enter the world of David Mamet when a sign reading “Warning: Very Coarse Language” cautions your entrance.

On a trip to Toronto to visit a fellow theatre-loving friend, we satisfied our theatrical craving with Soulpepper’s production of Glengarry Glen Ross, about the challenges and corruption in the real estate business. Though set in the 1980’s, the play still resonates with today’s tough economic times, as the salesman try to close deals on useless real estate at ridiculous prices.  At stake are two mens’ jobs.  The company’s bosses have devised a contest to reward the man with the most sales a Cadillac, and the two men with the least a pink slip.

Our modesty undeterred by the warning sign, we entered the theatre to find a typical Chinese restaurant on stage, adorned with the obligatory red lanterns hanging above two symmetrical red-leather booths.  Two giant chalkboard flats served as the backdrop, soliciting the restaurant’s offerings with the accompanying prices. As the lights went down, various spotlights highlighted the menu items in random order, enticing the audience like a delicious sales pitch.

Act I started off at a clipping pace, with desperate, older salesman Shelley Levene (played by sprightly veteran actor Eric Peterson) begging his supervisor John Williamson (Jordan Pettle) for a one-up in the sales leads. Peterson’s cunning yet adamant portrayal of Levene made his character pitiable, as his desperation strangely justified his immoral tactics in attempting to get ahead.  Pettle imbued Williamson, a rule-abiding authority figure, with a dichotomy of strictness and sympathy.  I could sense his subtle undertones of compassion for Levene, which softened the rigidity of his words and gave depth to his character.

In Scene II, realtor Moss (Peter Donaldson) pitched his office robbery scheme to co-worker Aaronow (William Webster) at a logic trumping pace that only expert salesman are capable of.  He just about convinced me to jump on board with his nasty plans. Even Ricky Roma’s (Alber Shultz) tipsy monologue in Scene III kept up the mind-blowing momentum as he wooed potential buyer James Lingk (Kevin Bundy) with his rapid-fire, auctioneer-like speech and smarmy swagger.

By intermission, which came as a shock to everyone, (“Where did the time go?!”) it occurred to me that this was the first time I had seen Mamet’s choppy, conversational language fully realized.

In many of his plays, Mamet’s dialogue captures the nature of human conversation, with characters interrupting and speaking over each other.  In the two other Mamet productions I have seen, the Pullman-Styles rendition of Oleanna in LA and the star-studded Broadway show Race, the rugged dialogue seemed forced at times. Some of the actors seemed like they did not know how to handle the language, and they stunted their interruptions with pauses that made the next lines awkward and unmotivated. However, the entire cast of Glengarry Glen Ross mastered Mamet’s naturalistic style of conversation. Their words scaffolded on top of each other in a nonstop whirlwind of dialogue, fully engaging the audience by the challenging us to keep up.

After the show, my companion and I left the theatre beaming, our brains pleasantly rattled with a hefty dose of very coarse language.  She said it was the best Toronto play she had seen in years.  I said it was the best Mamet show I had seen anywhere.


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