Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: Glengarry Glen Ross/ the Retreat

Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: Glengarry Glen Ross/ the Retreat

Article excerpt

David Mamet's plays are tough to pull off because his dialogue lacks the predictable shapeliness of traditional dramatic speech. He prefers the sort of meandering, oblique, backtracking and self-deluding conversation you might overhear in a hotel dining-room. Glengarry Glen Ross opens in a restaurant, where a handful of realtors are discussing the perils and joys of their craft. The scene culminates in one of the landmarks of American drama. Top salesman Ricky approaches a potential customer in disguise and delivers a sales pitch that sounds like a poetic meditation on destiny and existence. It's impossible to say what darkness this little masterpiece emerged from but Christian Slater (Ricky) captures all of it, abruptly and shockingly, with laser-like precision.

Ricky's mark is a middle-aged deadbeat named James (Daniel Ryan), whose ominous black moustache sits over his upper lip like a hearse with a puncture. James accepts Ricky's advice to buy a plot of land but the next day he changes his mind and slopes into the real-estate office hoping for a refund. The place is swarming with cops. Burglars have broken in overnight and swiped the precious 'leads' (contact details of potential buyers). Every employee is under suspicion. Ricky must now pitch the deal to James all over again ('reclose him' in the jargon), while fending off the attentions of a twitchy detective. Slater's enigmatic features are ideally suited to the role of the swaggering salesman whose chief strength lies in his ability to suppress every trace of weakness. His broad, handsome all-American face is offset by two darting fishy little eyes. He's aided by his colleague Levene (Stanley Townsend), who poses as a happy customer in order to convince James that the investment is sound. The elaborate pretence is hilarious to watch as they try to hoodwink Ricky's victim a second time, and yet the sense of panic and despair are never far from the surface.

When actors get pompous they sometimes claim that performing Mamet is like playing jazz, but here the analogy is apt. Slater and Townsend share a deliriously absurd passage of co-operative rivalry, each supplementing and complementing the other, before breaking free and delivering a solo effort which the other watches in awestruck envy. They really are like two great musicians reaching the highest pitch of their art and loving every minute of it. The effect is extraordinary. …

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