There’s nothing quite like the terrible anxiety brought upon a theatre production when a key player has to step away at the last minute, as has been the case with MTC’s Glengarry Glen Ross, when Steve Bisley had to withdraw due to illness just days before opening night. Reviews for this show have been delayed, to allow the cast time to readjust as John McTernan stepped into the void left behind by Bisley.
Unfortunately, but understandably, this still hasn’t left enough time for McTernan to be ‘off book’. A difficult situation, considering how key his role of Shelly Levene is; a wearying real estate salesman about to lose his job if he doesn’t make a sale of some undesirable Florida property.
David Mamet’s 1983 play is an exercise in ensemble acting, focused on the kind of lies, threats, intimidation and bribery that epitomise everything hated about pushy salesmen. The swift script clocks in at roughly 90 minutes and is packed with rapid fire dialogue, making its point through one straight-forward premise and a slightly unexpected outcome. What has made this play pass the test of time is the opportunity it affords actors to shine, riding a rollercoaster of desperate emotions – particularly through the character of Shelly Levene.
By no fault of his own, McTernan still has his head down in the book for many of the most crucial moments in the show, disconnecting him from his fellow actors and the audience at the same time. While he never drops the pace of the dialogue and does a marvellous job of injecting his reading with some characterisation, the sheer desperation required of Levene is missing, along with something of his soul. Thankfully, the glimmer of reaching this goal is visible and hopefully McTernan will be able to relinquish his script in the near future and start the process of layering this character.
Around him, the rest of the cast is definitely ready to shine. Alex Dimitriades is deliciously ruthless in the role of gun salesman Richard Roma. Slickly ricocheting around the stage, deflecting anyone who stands in his way and slimily entrapping his prey, the nebbish James Lingk (Brett Cousins). Roma intimidates Lingk into purchasing a property by implying that the acquisition would imbue him with an adventurous spirit. Cousins gives Lingk an amusingly insecure sensibility and creates a wonderfully timid adversary for Roma.
Greg Stone makes the boisterous and scheming Dave Moss charmingly Machiavellian, while Rodney Afif provides nice diversion as the unconfident and panicky George Aaronow. Nick Barkla plays the jumped-up office manager John Williamson with a sense that nepotism found him the position before it was due.
Alkinos Tsilimidos’ direction brings nothing new to this modern classic, which sadly highlights even further the difficulties this production is facing. A focus on individual characterisation pours the spotlight on each performer as Mamet’s script gives them their time under the microscope. At the moment, this production suffers under that scrutiny and leaves an underwhelming lack of impact.
Hopes are high that the elements on display are all well set to find the right rhythm imminently. Bookings for the back end of the season are highly advised.