Glengarry Glen Ross – taut, spare, and full of bile

GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS – directed by Brian Keegan

David Mamet’s GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS won a Pulitzer Prize and became a film called one of the nineties’ best. This performance at Onehunga’s Dolphin Theatre takes us ‘under the hood’ into the untruths and consequences of a nest of high-pressure salesmen. We bear witness to their bad behaviour as the pressure on each of them is ramped up. 

Like classic drama, the action is confined to a 24-hour period, in which the cast each walk a tightrope between success and abject failure: the prize of a Cadillac (and continued employment) against the threat of being “canned” in disgrace.

The play was one of Mamet’s early successes before he went on to write, adapt and direct award-winning theatre, television and film, including adaptations of The Verdict and Postman Always Rings Twice, and his own American BuffaloOleannaHouse of Games, and The Unit.

The story is told through Mamet’s whip-smart dialogue, characters’ lines bouncing back and forth at lightning speed. Done well, it’s like ping-pong. To the actors’ evident enjoyment: they make the most of it.

It’s fun to contrast play and film (whose screenplay was also by Mamet.) The play is taut, spare, telling only enough to allow the audience to deduce the whole tale for themselves. The film adds layers and characters, but the play takes it down to the pith, stripping away the superfluous just as the characters’ pretensions are rapidly stripped away.


The play relies for its impact on what Hemingway referred to as his “iceberg theory,” in which ninety percent of the story sits underwater (or off-stage) revealed only by the ‘tip’ that we see revealed. Famously, Hemingway also wrote about “grace under pressure.” Mamet puts every one of his characters under pressure — but not one is capable of any grace. At all.

But, fuck, it sure makes for great theatre.  Only Mamet has characters who curse in iambic pentameter. And only he could make you wonder whether the collective noun for swearing should be ‘an eloquence.’

This is a whodunnit wrapped in an immorality tale in which ‘crossing the line’ has consequences – and each of these salesmen has crossed the line a long time ago.  It is Arthur Miller’s ‘Death of a Salesman,’ done with bile.

“Thank goodness it’s not like this in an office environment today,” says director Brian Keegan, pointedly.

Oliver Roberts’ Ricky Roma is possibly the standout, bringing a physicality and cheek to his almost-successful Chicago wide-boy. Arthur Young gives us more Arthur Miller’s Willy Loman than the rumpled Shelley Levene that Jack Lemmon gives us in the film version. While Mark Bishop manages, with quiet humour, to make George almost loveable. Director Brian Keegan schooled the actors in the ‘ping-pong’ of the script’s back and forth, Young and Ryan Douglas leading this off with zeal.

The sets were a little rudimentary. (More than one booth would work for a restaurant. And what office, even a burgled one, has no desks?) And Mamet’s casual-sounding dialogue wasn’t always ping-ponged back and forth with the timing he might demand. But this is fiendishly, and notoriously, difficult. And on the whole, this cast and crew do an admirable job.

This is sharp theatre done well.

Dolphin Theatre’s GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS is on until 1 July. Tickets are available HERE.

Theatre Peter