BUSAN, South Korea — This weekend heralds the return of the Busan English Theatre Association with a production of David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize winning play Glengarry Glen Ross. The controversial play, showcases the hard-hitting style and grit of a group of real estate agents who will do just about anything to close a deal. The play, later made popular by a movie adaptation starring Al Pacino and Alec Baldwin, featured an all male cast and some spectacularly vulgar language. Set in 1980âs Chicago, a flailing office of fading salesmen is shaken up by the arrival of a greed-mad shark from downtown. With blood in the water, the shark tells the failing team to start closing or start packing. It’s every man for themselves as they betray, backstab, and cheat their way to survival.
Mamet has often been criticized for his extreme masculine portrayals, and sometimes outright misogyny. For Dwayne Stores, Busan’s director, it provided an opportunity to take a brilliant piece of writing, and add something new to it. Saying he wanted to take a feminist angle to it, Stores has recast some of the lead roles, and fiercest characters, as women. For local talent De Ann Dubin, it provided a perfect opportunity. A longtime fan of Mamet’s work, Dubin had resigned herself to merely being an audience member of one of Mamet’s most acclaimed pieces. When I heard that Dwayne was casting women, she says, I was ecstatic.
The introduction of women into the piece necessarily means some changes, tweaking words here and there, but the essential strength of the characters remains. In Stores’ reworked cast, women are as openly aggressive and unapologetically ambitious as their male counterparts. The reworking means that gender is, quite simply, not an issue. As Dubin puts it, since my character is written for a man, the play is not about her gender. In the real world her behaviour would most likely be considered taboo for her gender, but in the world of the play it is simply accepted.
The language chosen by Mamet mirrors that. Rude, abrasive and downright vulgar, the American playwright minced no words between his characters. The air is thick with curse words as they struggle to succeed and correspondingly ensure each other’s downfall. Desperation pushes the characters to the breaking point, and here, Mamet’s mastery with dialogue is clear. For Adam Kavulic, this is just another part of the play to relish. My favourite lines are those where curse words are just like giant, horrible cherries on top of these amazing, emotional statements.
Feminism is not the only theme woven into the play. Characters struggle with morality and avarice, trading in their values for a plumper paycheque. Jen, played by Anahita Eftekhari, is one standout in the dog-eat-dog world. Less vicious than the others, Jen is not outwardly strong, but does what she can for survival in her harsh world. It’s not a soft world Mamet creates, says Kavulic. Only strong people can survive it. Agism also plays a part, as the older salesmen must reignite their hunger for the sale, or risk being replaced by younger, and more aggressive, salesmen.
The intricate texture means that for audiences, the characters and all their flaws may present a bit of a mirror. All of us have sparred with drive, ambition and greed in our own lives, and now Glengarry Glen Ross gives us front row seats to the carnage of being driven to the edge.
Glengarry Glen Ross runs May 31st at 7pm and June 1st at 4pm, in KSU. Tickets are 5,000W
For further information about the show, ticket reservations, and theatre, please check out the event page on Facebook.
Photos by Yuhee Kim.