David Mamet’s rapid-fire real-estate drama Glengarry Glen Ross is a pugilistic, testosterone-charged study in ruthless ambition, greed, power, desperation and vulgarity.
The 1984 Pulitzer Prize-winning play about a group of desperadoes trying to make a buck in the Chicago property market doldrums is seen as the essence of masculine theatre.
However, an all-female cast is turning that on its head in a new production by emerging independent theatre company Little y at the Blue Room.
With a sleek and sexy wink to the 1980s in the set design and costuming by Christina Smith, Glengarry Glen Ross spans two days in the working lives of real estate agents as they cheat, flatter, bribe and burgle their way to a prospective sale.
“Women are really good at sales and they can be just as manipulative as men,” says actor and Little y producer Georgia King. “If you take out the sales element it is really about desperation.
“We wondered whether that would be a challenge having women say those things and do those things and behave in those ways. It has just come so naturally to us. I’m not sure what it says about us or women today or maybe the language and behaviour is reflective of the desperation and the greed. Once you get in there and start playing those situations, the language just flows with how you are feeling.”
King says the all-women casting was not done to make a feminist statement but rather to experiment with Mamet’s ideas to see what would happen with women in that environment.
Glengarry Glen Ross is one of King’s favourite plays. But she had always assumed she would never be able to act in it until local director Mark Storen suggested the all-woman production.
“It is fabulous text,” King says. “The way he writes is so real that it seems unreal when you read it, but people actually talk like that. There is lot of broken speech, people talking over each other, unfinished sentences and unfinished ideas in monologues, so that was definitely appealing as a performer.”
Mamet has said he doesn’t want a single word of his plays to be changed, so King and other cast members Leanne Curran, Ella Hetherington, Alexandra Nell, Sarah McKellar and Verity Softly play the salesmen Ricky, Shelly, James, John, George and Dave as they are.
“Every single word that Mamet wrote we are saying but we are not playing the characters as men,” King says. “The world that we have created is not so literal that it matters.”
Glengarry Glen Ross is Little y’s fourth production after Scent Tales, Slut and the Happy Dagger co-production of The Persians.
This production follows such high-profile gender-swapping roles as Helen Mirren as Prospero in the 2010 Julie Taymor film the Tempest, Robyn Nevin in Melbourne Theatre Company’s Queen Lear this year, and Cate Blanchett and Pamela Rabe as the Richards II and III in the Sydney Theatre Company’s The War of the Roses in 2009. Last year, Perth’s all-female theatrical collective HIVE presented Shakespeare’s blood-fest Titus Andronicus as its first and only production.
“I think there is something in the air where people are experimenting with that, but I feel like everyone is doing it in a different way,” King says. “People are finding their own way to gender bend.”
Glengarry Glen Ross is at Blue Room Theatre until December 8.