Drama Review – Glengarry Glen Ross by David Mamet

Out of respect for sensitive readers, I shall not mimic Mr. Mamet’s raw use of vernacular during the course of this review.

Glengarry Glen Ross explored the harsh, cut throat world of real estate sales. Through the drama’s presentation Mr. Mamet took a trip into the cul-de-sacs and tenements at the depths of the human psyche. The playwright melded the techniques of wit, humor and cynicism to provide an engaging illustration of cold-hard realism.

When one envisions people behaving at their self-serving worst, professions such as politicians, corporate executives or blogging drama critics come to mind. The telling choice of real estate illustrated much. These characters were modern “everymen”, with all the fears and flaws that drive a man to his worst. (Oddly, the play contained no female characters.) If the Marquis de Sade had been around in 1982, he would’ve struggled to create characters the likes of Richard Roma and Dave Moss.

One of the pitfalls of writing drama entails limiting the author’s ability to truly show a character’s essence. This is especially true for the written version. It didn’t inhibit Mamet at all. In fact, he thrived. The best example I’ve ever read of how to show a character’s true essence follows. Below Dave Moss attempted to talk George Aaranow into committing a robbery for him.

Moss: Listen to this. I have an alibi, I’m going to the Como Inn, why? Why? The place gets robbed, they’re going to come looking for me. Why? Because I probably did it. Are you going to turn me in? (Pause) George? Are you going to turn me in?
Aaronow: What if you don’t get caught?
Moss: They come to you, you going to turn me in?
Aaronow: Why would they come to me?
Moss: They’re going to come to everyone.
Aaronow: Why would I do it?
Moss: You wouldn’t, George, that’s why I’m talking to you. Answer me. They come to you. You going to turn me in?
Aaronow: No.
Moss: Are you sure?
Aaranow: Yes. I’m sure.
Moss: Then listen to this: I have to get those leads tonight. That’s something I have to do. If I’m not at the movies…if I’m not eating over at the inn…If I don’t do this then I have to come in here…
Aaranow:…then you don’t have to come in…
Moss:…and rob the place…
Aaranow:..I thought we were only talking….
Moss:…they take me, then. They’re going to ask me who were my accomplices.
Aaranow: Me?
Moss: Absolutely.
Aaranow: That’s ridiculous.
Moss: Well, to the law, you’re an accessory. Before the fact.
Aaranow: I didn’t ask to be.
Moss: The tough luck, George, because you are.
Aaranow: Why? Why, because you only told me about it?
Moss: That’s right. (Page 44)

While the play described a fictitious real estate office, I could swear I bought a car off of Moss at some point. He certainly knew how to talk people into doing what he wanted.

I read a number of other outstanding uses of language. Due to the length of the preceding passage, I’ll only reference one. At one point, master exploiter Richard Roma said, “Always tell the truth. It’s the easiest thing to remember.” (Page 61) He later showed monumental skill as a fabulist nearly conning someone out of $82K. In this case, I know I definitely bought a car off of this guy.

Mamet’s character development impressed me the most. I mentioned Roma and Moss already, but I found Shelly “The Machine” Levine the most thought-provoking. From the playwright’s depiction, I visualized him as a cross between Willy Loman from Death of a Salesman and “Old Gil” from The Simpsons television series. The guy took the concept of a loser to a whole new depth. (I won’t give spoilers.) I applaud Mamet for keeping me interested in this character’s fate in spite of his pathetic nature.

While I greatly enjoyed the play, I had two criticisms. First, I didn’t like the title. I’ve seen the movie and read the play and didn’t understand. I looked it up on Wikipedia and the entry said it came from two different real estate developments the salesmen attempted to peddle. The author’s intention escaped me both times. (For those unaware: Mamet also wrote the screenplay for the movie version.)

I also didn’t like the way the true office thief got caught. It came across as extremely contrived and too convenient. (I won’t express the identity of the thief or his revelation for those unfamiliar with the work.) I thought the rest of the play outstanding, so this lapse at a critical point in the story stood out.

While the narrative showed that one should “always be closing”, I couldn’t put the play down once. Now that I’ve finished, I’m heading out for damned Chinese food. Aw, that’s one lapse into swearing. Not bad for a Mamet fan.

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