May 26, 2011
David Mamet's superb play about desperate estate agents, a ferocious study of competitive capitalism that has scarcely dated.David Mamet's 1983 drama based on his own experiences as a salesman in sixties America examines a cut-throat commercial world devoid of humanity. It feels as immediate as it does unsettling for, I think, two reasons: firstly, human nature doesn't change. It's almost impossible to watch these men selling dud Florida real estate and not think of their contemporary cousins in struggling Britain, the loan sharks selling on debtors and their debt, like meat on a slab, to ever more rapacious spivs dealing in human naivety and misery.
Second, Mamet has written a clever play where the moral compass is turned upside down. The cunning thing is that even as Shelley Levene, Richard Roma and their pals con folk like you and me rotten, I found myself siding with the shifty winners and scorning the conned loser. Moreover, the thrusting energy of this production sucks you in with these rogues who live in the present in pursuit of the future - the next lead, the next sale, the next bonus.
This Illyria Productions version does the two acts of this short (at 80 mins) but brutal piece proud. Act I, set in a neighbourhood Chinese restaurant, has three male couples in sequence occupying a table where one of them harangues and hectors his companion. These ‘conversations’ reveal our salesmen in all their dysfunctional glory. These are men boiling with anger, with frustration and with paranoia. They are unable to sustain an equal human relationship; they are corrupted to the core with their cock-eyed, ‘dog eats dog’ code of conduct. Act II boasts a clever set design from Anna Lewis, an office ransacked by one of the men, desperate for the sales leads hidden in the files. The action follows a downward spiral of disappointment leading inexorably to disaster.
Director Jamie MacDonagh moves the action along with verve and he’s unearthed a terrific cast. Lloyd Houston is Shelley “The Machine” Levene, an ageing salesman now on a downward slope, who shows us the poignancy in his raucous scrabbling to avoid the trapdoor to oblivion. Will Hatcher is charismatic as ruthlessly ambitious top dog Richard Roma, while Jordan Waller shines as the pitiless shark Dave Moss. The remaining four actors are no less committed, and a particular mention for the great job done by the US accent coach, Jenna Berk.
Make no mistake, for a small-scale student production this is about as good as it gets. Don’t miss it.