Thursday, 28 May 2015

Glengarry Glen Ross - Black Swan State Theatre Company (26 May 2015)

I’ll say one thing about Black Swan they sure do create wonderful sets for their productions. This one on a Revolve had a restaurant configuration with multiple booths on one side and a real estate office on the other. The level of detail was excellent, especially the freshly burgled office of the second act. Curiously though, unless my eyes deceived me, there was no Board which is referred to several times and the means by which the characters ‘keep score’ in the dog eat dog world of real estate sales. It’s an odd oversight.

The other aspect that undercut the stage presentation was the use of incidental sound – firstly with some cheesy, piped oriental stylings under the restaurant scenes; and with a car horn soundscape in the second act clearly on a loop. The former was particularly distracting. This is David Mamet who is famous above all for his dialogue. Why water it down with such a superfluous element?

To the performances in the third and final preview and this really was a mixed bag for me. The play starts with pairings in the booths – Shelley Levene (Peter Rowsthorn) and the office manager (Will O’Mahony) in one scene; followed by Dave Moss (Kenneth Ransom) and George Arronow (Luke Hewitt); then Ricky Roma (Damian Walshe-Howling) and Steve Turner’s timid prospect James Lingk. Competition is fierce and only those on top of the board will get the premium Glengarry leads. Roma is top dog; Levene is past his used by date but desperate to capture former glories; and Moss cajoles George into contemplating more drastic measures to avoid being fired.

I found Rowsthorn far too over the top both in exaggerated mannerisms and acting style to have any sympathy for Levene. His performance immediately kept me at arm’s length from the whole endeavour which was unfortunate. He starts at such a high pitch that there’s nowhere for him to go. Ransom struggled early in his opening scene but was helped out of a hole by Luke Hewitt who struck me as someone who would have done Levene far more justice. His simpleminded George was well pitched for mine.

Walshe-Howling fared quite well as the smooth talking and cocky Roma but the whole thing only found a rhythm deep into the production in two sequences - when Turner’s customer arrives in the office to withdraw his buy order; and O’Mahony’s retort to Levene’s admonishment after his intervention cruels Roma’s sale.

In stark contrast to the maelstrom of flailing limbs and overly gleeful swearing, Turner’s stillness as Lingk clutches a valise to his chest and quietly conveys his wife’s wishes is a welcome contrast and Walshe-Howling modulates his performance accordingly. It’s a quieter moment that facilitated an interesting scene whereas everything before felt overdone and too much of a caricature for all involved. It also allows for a build to the infamous Ricky Roma tirade instead of the whole play being pitched at the same heightened level. Likewise for O’Mahony who is dressed down by Levene only to push back with the reveal around which the story ultimately pivots. Again, it’s a far more considered moment.

This is only sporadically funny with Hewitt’s George really being the lynchpin to genuine laughs in his reaction to Ransom’s overplayed Moss. The character portrayed by Ben Mortley really doesn’t have much to do and I found him strangely passive in the face of Roma’s arrogance given his rank as a Detective.

Overall I was disappointed by Glengarry Glen Ross – yes, they’re supposed to be larger than life characters in what is described as a ‘vicious comedy’ but I was longing for some, indeed any, nuance to really let this fly.

The play is directed by Kate Cherry and is on at the Heath Ledger Theatre until 14 June.

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