Study Guide

Glengarry Glen Ross

By David Mamet

Glengarry Glen Ross Introduction

Sure, watching someone stab another person in the back or seeing him skirt the law can be interesting, but throw a little competition in the mix, and things can get downright exciting. This is the type of world David Mamet is known for creating—a world full of conflict and tension where people behave badly, and we as the audience just get to sit back and enjoy.

David Mamet's 1984 Pulitzer Prize winning play Glengarry Glen Ross gives audiences and readers a chance to delve into the minds of a group of guys who are willing do whatever it takes to survive in the cutthroat world of the real estate business. Wait—did you think it was all just driving around and showing people nice houses? Nope. That's not how things work in the world Mamet's created.

Jobs are on the line. There are only a couple spots atop the leader board, and if you don't sell, you don't make the board. If you don't make the board, you lose your job, and if you lose your job, you lose pretty much everything. That's business, people.

In Glengarry Glen Ross, Mamet taps into the desperation, the manipulation, the conniving, and the straight-up backstabbing that comes into play when a group of "colleagues" (trust us—that word belongs in scare quotes) are forced to outsell each other in order to survive. It's office Darwinism at its best, and it can make you laugh, it can make you angry, and it might just make you question the type of person you are.

Since it opened at London's Cottlesloe Theatre back in 1983 and Chicago's historic Goodman Theatre in 1984, the play has been performed in theatres all over the world. It's taken the stage everywhere from Broadway to student-run university basement theatres, and it was turned into a big time movie.

Some of the most famous actors out there have played roles in Glengarry Glen Ross, and the play continues to lure top talent almost thirty years after its first production. Actors are lured to roles that they can sink their teeth into, and with this play Mamet has created complex men who are singularly driven, high-stakes situations, and brilliantly melded dark comedy with almost classical tragedy. It's exciting stuff for an actor to take on, and it's a pleasure to watch and read.

Mamet's style has become legendary in theater circles. The guy is so big time, in fact, that the word Mametian was coined to describe his work or work that tries to be like his—work that thrives on rapid-fire dialogue, brutal language, driven characters, and a male-dominated world. Glengarry Glen Ross might still be the best example of the Mametian style out there, and it's worth a look for anyone who loves theater, questions corporate America, or just likes guys who talk fast.

What is Glengarry Glen Ross About and Why Should I Care?

It's time to try out for the football team, backflip your way onto the cheerleading squad, or snag the lead in the school play. You prepare, you work hard, and you know you've got a shot. However, you also know that there are a lot of people who want the same thing, but only a limited number of open spots. What do you do?

Almost all of us have faced moments like this, where we stare down something we want knowing the whole time that there is someone else out there who wants it just as badly. The way we act in these situations can go a long way in terms of showing what kind of people we all are. Some of us might take the honorable approach—do our best and see where the chips fall. But others, well, others might take some steps to make sure the chips fall right in their laps.

David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross puts us right in the middle of this kind of situation. A group of real estate salesmen all want to be the leader on the big board. If they're #1, there's a shiny new car coming their way; if they're in second place, they might win a set of steak knives or something; but if they're in spot number three, they're out of a job. Think of it like the Hunger Games, except people outsell each other instead of killing each other. Also, no one is named Katniss.

If you've ever been in a situation when you thought for even half a second about taking advantage of someone else for your own gain, then this is the play to read. Mamet taps into the darkness that desperation, greed, and arrogance can bring out in all of us, and he manages to be funny while doing so, which is no easy task.

Glengarry Glen Ross Resources

Websites

The Politics of Theatre
This is Mamet's website. He used to just talk about theatre and art, but he's made a political shift as of late, and he likes talking about that now, too.

Theatre History
Track the seemingly countless productions of the play since it opened back in the 80s.

Movie or TV Productions

Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
This is a pretty straightforward film adaptation of the play. The one bonus is Mamet added a character when he wrote the screenplay. Alec Baldwin plays the guy who comes in from the head office whose "watch cost more than your car." It's a legendary scene, and it's not even in the play.

Articles and Interviews

Mamet Talks Theatre
This interview in The Paris Review gives a glimpse into what Mamet thinks about theatre, his own work, and life in general.

From Scrubs to Broadway
John C. McGinley of Scrubs fame talks about his role in the Broadway revival Glengarry Glen Ross.

Video

Always Be Cobbling
Alec Baldwin spoofs his role in the film version of Glengarry Glen Ross (the role doesn't exist in the play). Apparently, Santa's workshop is just as cutthroat as the real estate world.

Pacino on Roma
Al Pacino played Ricky Roma in the film version, and then years later took Roma to Broadway. Listen to him talk about brining Roma back to the stage.

A Sneak Peek
You don't get to hear the dialogue (the language is probably a little too rough), but you can take a look at what the latest Broadway revival of the play looked like.

Audio

All Stage Actors Make this Kind of Cash, Right?
NPR breaks down Pacino's earnings for his stint in Glengarry Glen Ross on Broadway (hint: it's $125,000 per week).

Images

Always Be Baldwin
Alec Baldwin's character isn't in the play, but he's in the movie. Also, he's awesome.

The Man Himself
David Mamet: the man behind all that talking.

That's Star Power, Baby
Here's the poster for the movie. That's a whole lot of famous people.