F$%&in’ A!: Sold on Glengarry Glen Ross

The lights had dimmed in the theatre of the Segal Centre–it was opening night of their production of Glengarry Glen Ross, and no time was wasted in letting us know exactly what kind of ride we were in for over the next hour and 40 minutes.

“Put. That cellphone. Down.” Demanded the pre-show announcement, with the exact affectation of Alec Baldwin in his famous “Coffee Is For Closers” scene from the cult hit screen adaptation of the play. They even worked in a few bleeping expletives into the rest as they warned us about mature content and obscene language.

What unfolded after that was nothing short of explosive.

Full disclosure, I’ve never seen another production of the play, or even watched the movie. I read Mamet’s play for modern drama literature class, and it was one of the few assigned readings that was compelling enough to finish.

I was gripped with the visceral monologues, the masterstrokes of the way power changed hands on the turn of a single sentence, and the way Mamet used profanity like it was his one true medium.

For all of its raw reputation and my high regard for it as a killer of a script, reading it was nothing like seeing it performed live, and last night’s production was a stunning way to experience it for the first time. They sold the hell out of it.

There’s always a moment when you’re viewing live theatre, before you’re sucked into the story, in which you’re aware that you’re watching people on a stage. You have to get pulled into the words they are saying, and believe that the actors are no longer actors.

This awareness was quickly and deftly swindled away within minutes of the first scene, in the skilled hands of R.H. Thompson as Shelley “The Machine” Levene, talking a blue streak, and Graham Cuthbertson as John Williamson, skeptic and struggling to get a single syllable out and keep his temper in check.

The rest of the world could go fuck itself, you knew within moments that this was going to be something special.

Every character had a standout moment, there was not a single suit and tie under the lights that didn’t impress me. In the very next scene, Daniel Lillford and Michel Perron had the audience laughing and and simultaneously gawking as Moss and Aaronow, plotting–not plotting–just talking–about how very unfair the current system they were working in was and what exactly they could do to strike back.

Brett Watson’s machine gun delivery of the ecstatic highs and screaming lows of Richard Roma had me trying to keep up, just as much as Mike Paterson’s helpless James Lingk. Watching Watson swindle his way through every scene with a light step and a sharpened hatchet for a tongue was nothing less than a temporary fit of insanity.

The production design–costumes and sets–shone out too. When I interviewed Cuthbertson prior to seeing the show, he said they had kept the production very traditional, which is not taken to mean minimal, in any capacity.

The sets were just enough to put you in the scene and keep you locked in, in the rare pauses in the play in which the cast of scheming salesmen were not trying to sell each other and the audience something. The costumes, from thick framed aviator glasses and rumpled business shirts to slick suits and shoes were the added touch it needed to make it all real.

By the time the whole thing wrapped up, I was grinning at what exactly they had pulled off. It was like a Roman colosseum—if gladiators were ‘80s businessmen wielding profanity in the name of absolutely destroying each other. Into the second act, the audience was in on the schemes too. Actors were screaming and swearing, and we were laughing and staring, hooked.

Segal Centre’s latest production, from top to bottom, has closed the deal. But don’t take my fuckin’ word for it, go see it for yourself.

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