Written by David Mamet, Glengarry Glen Ross is a world-renowned play which is widely considered to be an American classic. While I was already familiar with the plot, I attended the play on July 4th, in San Francisco for the first time.
The story revolves around the challenges and difficulties facing four real estate agents operating in Chicago, who are willing to engage in illicit and immoral practices in order to win a sales contest launched by their employers, namely Mitch and Murray. The four salesmen, Roma, Levene, Aaronow and Moss have different personalities, stories and qualities which are carefully emphasized throughout the play and emerge as a result of the obstacles that the encounter in their attempt to keep their jobs.
As part of the aforementioned contest, the company’s top salesman will win a Cadillac, while the two worst participants will lose their jobs. The possibility of getting fired prompts Roma, Levene, Aaronow and Moss to try anything in order to obtain better leads and achieve the required amount of sales.
The First Act of the play takes place at a Chinese restaurant not too far from the office. Here, Levene does his very best to convince his boss, Williamson, to pass him better leads as to increase his chance of closing a sale. However, providing an employee with better leads would violate the company policy, which is why Williamson refuses to help Levene, in spite of his compliments, threats and attempts to bribe him in order to achieve his goal.
From a critical perspective, the first scene is certainly significant as it introduces the viewer to some of the main themes of the play, making it clear that moral principles are likely to be challenged throughout the remaining scenes.
In the second scene, Aaronow and Moss appear to be very frustrated and concerned about their future at the company, to the extent that they even consider the possibility of stealing the company’s sales leads and sell them to a competitor, i.e. a former salesman who has set up his own company and might be willing to pay for the aforementioned leads. Here, the performers successfully manage to convey their frustration and lack of prospects, thus encouraging viewers to try to see their critical situation from their point of view and even justify their unethical and illegal plans.
In the following scene, Roma reflects on morality and its relationship with people’s destiny, reaching the conclusion that the world lacks an absolute morality and that men are in full control of their destiny. This part, which is very philosophical in nature, is suddenly interrupted by Roma’s attempt to persuade a man (i.e. Lingk) to buy some land, thus bringing the viewer’s attention back to the practical side of the story.
The Second Act portrays an ordinary day in the office, which starts with a police detective investigating a robbery resulted in the loss of important leads (as Aaronow and Moss had planned in the precious Act). Roma wonders if the Lingk agreement has gone missing, as in this case, he would almost certainly lose the contest. His frustration and lack of enthusiasm contributes to emphasizing Levene’s excitement after closing a sale.
After an argument occurs between Moss and Roma, Lingk walks into the office to cancel his contract and Roma pretends to be too busy to satisfy his request. Here, the viewer can witness the significant impact that a money-centered work environment whose only goal is to generate profit can have on people’s dignity and sense of honor. Specifically, Roma’s need and desire to win the content causes him to lie to his client, thus making it clear that when it comes to business, one should be willing to do anything for money. The following argument between Roma and Williamson emphasizes this particular aspect, as their confrontation stems from financial and selfish reasons. The supremacy of money over justice and even honest is reaffirmed when Williamson accuses Levene of having broken into the office and rather than showing confidence (in view of his innocence), Levene tries to bribe him offering him a portion of his commissions.
However, Williamson refuses Levene’s offer as, according to him, his commissions are worthless. In other words, it appears evident that the reason why Levene fails to bribe Williamson is not because of his employer’s integrity, but rather because he is not in the position to offer him enough money. Here, Levene successfully conveys his desperation and humiliation, making the viewer realize that his feeling of inadequacy results from the strong connection existing between his commissions and self-confidence.
To be more precise, this particular scene suggests that in the business world and society, a person’s worth can be measured on the basis of how much money they make, while honesty and truthfulness are worthless qualities. At this point, Williamson reports that Levene may be thief. As Roma’s interrogation ends, Williamson tells him that he will get half of Levene’s commissions, thus making it clear that even Roma’s earlier attempt to defend and support Levene was part of a bigger plan.
Here, Roma’s true nature finally emerges and makes the audience realize that although he seemed to be the most innocent of the four salesmen, he was actually one of the smartest and most mischievous one, to the extent that even the kindness that he had shown to his colleague was triggered by selfish reasons and personal interests.
Considering the events that shook the global financial edifice between 2005 and 2008, Glengarry Glen Ross is certainly relevant today as it shows clearly how contemporary society has developed in such a way to encourage individuals to see personal gain and money as their top priorities, whereas honesty, transparency and kindness are incompatible with the business world. However, it is important to note that the play was written in the 1980s, when Mamet clearly the impact that capitalism had had on society. As French (2014) noted, his recent interviews suggest that his perception of modern society may have changed slightly during the past few decades and that he may see capitalism in a more sympathetic way than he once did.
- French, Philip. “Glengarry Glen Ross review – Philip French on one of the best American casts ever assembled”. The Guardian, 14 September 2014. Web. 30 June 2015.