Theater review: Glengarry Glen Ross, Bakehouse Theater

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David Mamet’s play Glengarry Glen Ross has an impressive pedigree both on stage and on screen. Premiered in London in 1983, then in Chicago and Broadway the following year, it garnered public and critical acclaim, winning numerous accolades, including an Olivier Award, a Pulitzer Prize, and a New York Critics Award. The 1992 film version, starring stars such as Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon and Alec Baldwin, also received an Oscar nomination.

The action centers on four real estate sellers doing shady deals in Chicago. They are in a win-win race on the sales leader board where the best dog gets a Cadillac and the losers lose their jobs. They are desperate men, and their desperation gives the play its power and intensity.

Flying Penguin Productions of SA has planned to stage Glengarry Glen Ross last year to celebrate its 15e birthday, but life has arrived and is now on stage 12 months later. And what a powerful play, especially when staged in the privacy of the Bakehouse Theater where you can’t go to the bathroom when you’re seated because that means walking through the set!

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The actors are there with you, so close that you can feel their emotions and you can’t look away for a moment. And it’s an emotional roller coaster as each character shares their pain and passion.

Director David Mealor, founder and artistic director of Flying Penguin Productions, stuck with the original script, with all of its dialogue back then. These characters can be racist and sexist, but it was their world. There was a collective gasp from the audience on opening night on one of the play’s most offensive lines. Mealor should be commended for staying on script and not giving in to cowardly and politically correct.

And his actors make him proud in this tight set of seven men. The play opens with creamy office manager John Williamson, played by Bill Allert, and struggling salesman Shelly Levene, played by Rory Walker, at a seedy Chinese diner. Their lively conversation immediately sets the stage for what is to come.

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The other sellers are played by Nicholas Garsden as George, Christopher Pitman as Dave and Mark Saturno as the irrepressible Richard Roma. James Wardlaw and Chris Asimos round out the cast as the hapless client and tough sleuth respectively. The well-executed costumes, sets, lighting, sound and American accents (thanks to the excellent work of vocal coach Patrick Klavins) all add to the authenticity of the room.

Glengarry Glen Ross is an intense 90 minutes of dialogue-driven desperation. There are moments of humor in the midst of greed and corruption but ultimately these are sad characters who live small lives. And, inevitably, all of this is too close to reality for so many people. Yes, David Mamet wrote a brilliant screenplay but David Mealor can be rightly proud of his cast and vision. It is undoubtedly one of the most satisfying productions that I have seen in a long time.

Glengarry Glen Ross
Flying Penguin Productions in association with Brink Productions

Bakehouse Theater, Adelaide
Playwright: David Mamet
Director: David Mealor
Set designer and costume designer: Kathryn Sproul

Lighting designer: Tom Kitney
Composer and sound design: Quentin Grant
Cast: Bill Allert, Chris Asimos, Nicholas Garsden, Christopher Pitman, Mark Saturno, Rory Walker, James Wardlaw.

Glengarry Glen Ross” sold-out shows will be presented until September 25, 2021

Dr Diana Carroll is an Adelaide-based writer, speaker and critic. Her work has been published in newspapers and magazines including the Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, Woman’s Day, and B&T. Writing about the arts is one of his great passions.

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