“We sit down to eat dinner, I’m here, and now I’m a criminal”, exclaims George (Wil Johnson) to his co-worker, salesman Dave Moss (Denis Conway), in the second scene of David Mamet’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning real-estate-black-comedy Glengarry Glen Ross. George has just been asked to “steal the leads” for the Glengarry Highlands, a glittering target for brokers, which causes this flustered response. The play is embroiled in the menacingly thin boundary between business and burglary, and cooperation and conspiracy. As we follow the perplexing web of protagonists over the course of an intense 1 hour 45 minute production at the Cambridge Arts Theatre, we are exposed to the disturbingly amusing and the uncomfortably amoral in the capitalist American dream. Director Sam Yates successfully distinguishes Mamet’s modern masterpiece from its rivalled predecessor, Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman; he brings the script’s verbal fervour to life through a combination of pantomime-like theatrics and naturalistically dry conversation.
Although most of the scenes – particularly those in the first half of the production – only feature two people sitting side by side, the raging-rapid-fire exchanges, charged with thundering shouts and dizzying interruptions, grip the audience’s attention. Each pair has a unique dynamic: my personal favourite was the contrast between Wil Johnson’s jittery George and Denis Conway’s blasé counterpart, Dave Moss. Nigel Harman’s Ricky Roma – the champion of brokering bravado and charming charisma – never fails to impress the audience with his piercing delivery, especially during his mock-aphoristic monologue. After the interval, the play is almost hectic – there is a constant opening and closing of office doors as characters appear and disappear from the stage. In the climax, there’s chaos, visceral cursing (“That’s my message to you. F**k you and kiss my ass.”), and confusion.
Chiara Stephenson’s set design is particularly impressive: the first act is set in a garishly lit Chinese restaurant with a gaudy red-and-mahogany colour scheme; the second takes place in a cluttered grey-scale office that is clearly suffering from the aftermath of a robbery – half-open drawers, splintered blinds and crumpled sheets of paper. Just like Lynne Morris’ salesmen-costume design – suit-and-tie, Burberry coat, gold-rimmed glasses and perfectly combed hair – there is a beguilingly meticulous polish to the set. It’s all part of the act of self-deception: as Denis Conway’s aggressively persuasive Dave Moss says, “We’re not talking about [the robbery], we’re speaking about it”.
Although the complexity of these secret real-estate deals might sometimes hinder the audience’s ability to piece the plot together, there is no denying that Glengarry Glen Ross at the Arts Theatre is a production that you should ‘invest’ in. The play emanates a precision and professionalism that cannot be found in your average ADC or Corpus student show; the venue itself is certainly worth a visit. Shelley (Mark Benton) declares “I was cut out to be a thief. I was cut out to be a salesman”, and funnily enough, perhaps I am too: I’m quite adamant that this production should not be missed.
Tickets for Glengarry Glen Ross (11th March – 16th March 2019) are still available here: https://www.cambridgeartstheatre.com/whats-on/glengarry-glen-ross