Mamet’s excellent dialogue and the audience are left behind in Kate Cherry’s race to the finish.

Heath Ledger Theatre, Perth
May 27, 2015

It is no small thing to revive a multi-award winning play and turn what was a two-act play into a one-act play. There are inevitable compromises that must be made, and one would seem to be the pace of the play. From the outset, the cast race through the dialogue, possibly to create the impression that they are fast-talking Chicago salesmen, possibly because they know that the show comes down at 8.50 PM, all over in an hour and twenty minutes.

Whatever the reason for the breakneck speed, it detracts from the dialogue. What should be witty and cutting is simply a cheap throwaway line. What should be pathos is, instead, pathetic. What should be dramatic pauses are instead minute gaps in the machine-gun rattle of expletive-laden speech. There is no room for drama here, no room for the light touch, the contrapuntal note that sets up the next episode. Everything is just too fast.

Even the set changes move too fast. There are, effectively, three sets, in two settings. There are the three sections of the Chinese restaurant in the first act, and the ransacked office in the second act; or, rather, the second half of the single act. How are these scene changes achieved? By using the revolve that featured so prominently in a previous play directed by Cherry, Dinner, where the central dinner table went around and around and around. Part of the problem of using a revolve for scene changes is that it has to stop at exactly the right place, every time, and this was not the case. In the middle scene in the restaurant it was on a slight angle, so that George Arronow, played by Luke Hewitt, had to be observed through one of the Chinese screens separating booths as he listened to Dave Moss, played by Kenneth Ransom, try to convince him to rob the office.

That separation into booths rendered all the action static, from the initial pleading of Shelley Levene, played by Peter Rowsthorn, to John Williamson, played by Will O’Mahony, to give him some of the leads to possible sales that are reserved for the top men on the leaderboard. Ricky Roma – Damian Walshe-Howling – seduces the innocent James Lingk – Steve Turner – into buying unwanted property while leaning from one booth into another. All three scenes are nailed to a single area of the stage, with little movement apart from bums shuffling along the seat of the booths. In the second half, when there is all the space of the burgled office to explore, the action still becomes static. People sit and talk, sit and observe, with the only relief the appearance and disappearance of Detective Baylen, played by Ben Mortley, as he pulls people into a back room to question them. There is also the looming presence of straight lines of people across the stage, talking across each other. Even the return of Lingk, who wants his money back, and the destruction of Levene by John, who tells him that the big sale he imagines he has is made is to a crazy couple, points which should be filled with pathos, are rendered almost tedious by the staging and unrelenting pace.

It is almost as if Cherry has directed the play as if it was a movie, where such static scenes can be filled with interest by close-ups, cutaways and other shot variations. But it’s not a movie, and the stasis leaves most of the stage unfilled, wasted, which is perhaps why part of the office set is invisible to anyone seated on the right of the auditorium. Mamet’s excellent dialogue is left behind in the race to the finish, and the audience is left behind, as well.

Glengarry Glen Ross plays at Heath Ledger Theatre until June 14