Closing a deal is the stuff that salespeople thrive on. It's more than their raison d'etre, more akin to oxygen or food for those of us who are not subjected to the cut-throat, dog-eat-dog world of selling. Survival in this fiercely competitive environment depends on success, and for some salespeople, they'll stop at nothing to close a deal and earn their commission, often selling unwary consumers stuff they don't really want as one of the characters in this play readily admits.
Writer David Mamet had the chance to study salespeople at close quarters when he worked for a while in a sales office. His experiences became this play some time later. Unlike today, when almost half of the total sales force in the US are women, Mamet's sales team are all men, as is the office administrator who provides the salesmen with the all-important leads, and who is thus universally hated.
The title of the piece sounds odd. It comes from the names of some of the real estate that is being sold by the salesmen, but it seems a little cryptic if you've never seen the play or the film. That didn't stop the play from winning a Pulitzer Prize for Mamet in 1984, having had its premiere at the National Theatre in 1983. It became a film in 1992, starring Jack Lemmon.
In 'Glengarry Glen Ross', projections on a screen at the front of the stage show the idyllic land - tall trees, rolling green hills, unspoilt views - that is supposedly being sold. The tell-tale dots on the images, however, show that these are from advertising brochures - and we know instinctively that the reality is far from what the glossy publicity depicts.
The play is divided into two, more or less equal parts. A Chinese restaurant is the setting for the first section where we meet the salesmen. Jonathan Price's Shelley is an old hand who's past his 'closing date' - he can't make it on to the sales leader board for the monthly prize, even though he's desperate to earn money because (he says) his daughter is sick. The clinical office manager, John Williamson, hardly gets a word in edgeways as Shelley bribes leads from him. Then there's Aidan Gillan's top salesman, Richard Roma, who talks to an unsuspecting 'victim' in almost messianic, poetic terms before moving in 'for the kill' by producing his sales literature.
The second section is set in the sales office where a crime is being investigated. As the salesmen report for work, they're subjected to interrogation by a policeman, and frustration and envy bubble then explode around the grimy, dishevelled office. What becomes clear is that Roma and Shelley Levene have much in common, since both are obsessed with their sales technique.
Absorbing and compelling in almost equal measures, there are times when you are forced to laugh and moments when you simply have to cringe. The language of the play is often crude and repetitive, but it's the language of desperate, driven men struggling to compete and survive.
Mamet's play not only describes the merciless environment of the sales office, but by implication is a condemnation of consumerism and the endless search for greater profits and turnover by multi-national businesses. Fine playing from an ensemble cast in superb form coupled with astute direction from James Macdonald and a terrific script, really make this play a 'must see'.
What the popular press had to say.....
NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "No play better conveys the spirit of our money-obsessed times than this enthralling, black comedy by David Mamet." MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, "Superb play"; CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "A thrilling short, sharp shock of a show." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, "Mamet’s strongest, boldest play."