Existential philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre famously declared “hell is other people” in his one-act play “No Exit,” but Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Mamet would probably amend the statement to “Hell is other people’s money.” Much like the inferno-bound inhabitants of “No Exit,” the four real estate agents in “Glengarry Glen Ross” are trapped in the recession-bound hell of 1980s Chicago. Human achieve- ment is reduced to a monthly sales leaderboard where the promise of a brand new Cadillac dangles in front of the top sales staff while the threat of unemployment awaits those at the bottom.
Against a backdrop of duct-taped restaurant booths, rusted file cabinets and boarded-up windows, La Jolla Playhouse’s production of “Glengarry Glen Ross” captures the desparation of four men trying to claw their way up the leaderboard to avoid the chopping block. When agent Dave Moss (James Sutorius) hatches a plan with his co-workers to steal coveted premium real estate leads and sell them to a competi- tor, the plot becomes less about a heist and more about a stinging indictment of a system rigged against people who hit a string of bad luck and find themselves low on the leaderboard. Sutorius imbues the role with a righteous amount of indignation while aging Shelly “The Machine” Levene (Peter Maloney) captures the fleeting pride of a former top salesman turned humiliated groveler on the verge of getting fired.
In addition to economic degradation, “Glengarry Glen Ross” explores the breakdown of communication when listening becomes a legal liability and talking becomes a series of escalating interruptions. The La Jolla Playhouse emphasizes this aspect of Mamet’s work in a humorous way as characters alternately shout at each other and parrot lines in agreement. The taut 90-minute play moves too fast for intermissions in a reflection of the rapid-fire repartee punctuated by vulgarity, affectionately known as “Mamet-speak.”
As California lurches its way out of a great recession, La Jolla Playhouse’s production of “Glengarry Glen Ross” is a great show many can relate to. The play runs from Sept. 18 to Oct. 21. Tickets are available at lajollaplayhouse.org.