Gritty is one of those words usually reserved for intense cop dramas with stark lighting and lot of death. However, Mamet's world of real estate is a gritty one in its own right. This is a world where people don't pull their punches and where every action could mean you find yourself out of work:
ROMA: What's the fucking point in any case…? What's the point. I got to argue with you, I got to knock heads with the cops, I'm busting my balls, sell you dirt to fucking deadbeats money in the mattress, I come back you can't even manage to keep the contracts safe. (2.1.214-219)
Probably not the way you want to talk if you're hanging out with your mom… or in school… or babysitting… or, you know, just about anywhere doing just about anything. These guys swear likes it's going out of style, and they use language to cut at each other and break people down in addition to expressing their own frustrations. Their lives are full of tension and a heaping pile of darkness, and their words reflect it.
Mamet brings us into a dark and gray and gritty world. If you're in need of a little Technicolor pick-me-up, here's the bright and shining trailer for The Wizard of Oz.
No dragons, warriors, or magic spells here—Glengarry Glen Ross is all about real-world problems and real people who are shaped by that world. That said, though, there are some great debates amongst theater folk as to whether or not Mamet is a true realist. For every actor and critic who thinks that Mamet writes the way people talk, there are ten others willing to say that his dialogue is highly stylized and unrealistic. Here's a blurb about Mamet's American Buffalo that many could easily apply to Glengarry Glen Ross:
The language was realistic in the sense that it sounded just as the speech of these rough types should sound. But it is not realism. Mamet creates here and in his other dramas a staccato, rhythmic, obscenity-ridden dialogue that is artistic and arresting, an instantly-recognizable Mamet trademark. (Source)
Regardless of whether or not the play is prototypical realism doesn't mean that it easily fits into any other genre—Mamet's drama adheres to the rules of realism, and it's arguably the best fit. Well, beyond drama, of course. Drama, in its truest sense, is literature written to be performed, and Glengarry Glen Ross definitely fits the bill.
If you're trying to decipher some hidden definition of Glengarry Glen Ross, you'll be looking for a long time—the name just comes from the properties the guys are trying to sell (Glengarry Highlands and Glen Ross Farms). However, critics have referred to the title in such ways as "beguiling melodic" (Source)
There is a musical quality to the title that belies the harshness of some of the language of the play. At the end of the day, though, it comes from two properties, reiterating that it's all about selling in the end.
Levene steps into the room with the cops, and cue the dramatic music and blackout.
Oh, oops—that's not how the play ends. While that's the end of Levene's journey, Mamet chooses to go back to the leads. This play isn't just about Levene getting busted for a robbery, after all. In fact, the robbery is just one symptom of the environment Mamet has created—an environment where the only thing that matters is the sale. Here's how the play ends (we've covered it before, but it's worth going over again):
AARONOW: Did the leads come in yet?
AARONOW (Settling into a desk chair): Oh, God, I hate this job.
ROMA (Simultaneously with "job," exiting the office): I'll be at the restaurant. (2.1.1245-1250)
The office got robbed. Moss took off. Cops are grilling Levene with the help of Williamson. It's a pretty hectic day, but the two guys left in the office are going back to work because that's what you do. Aaronow—who can't stand it there—is still going to sit there and wait for the leads to come in. Roma, who just lost his last contract, is heading back to the restaurant where he closed the deal. Leads or no, he's getting back out there.
Always be closing.
The city itself doesn't necessarily mean anything in the grand scheme of things. Mamet is a Chicago guy and he did some time in Chicago real estate so he knows how it operates, but what's actually relevant to the story is that it takes place in a major city. This is not a slow-paced stroll through small town life. Nope—this is the big time, and if you don't hustle and perform, you're done.
The entire first act of the play takes place in the restaurant. Why, you ask? Why not just have this all set in the office?
There are a couple of reasons. The first is that being in the restaurant gives these guys the opportunity to speak a little more freely. There's no way Moss could get away with plotting a robbery of the office while in the office, and there's no way Levene would let the other guys see him begging Williamson for help.
The other brilliant little twist on the restaurant is that it is still an extension of the office. Even though they're free to talk and they're not at work, they're still only talking about work. Levene begs Williamson for leads, Moss and Aaronow complain about the work environment while Moss plots revenge, and Roma uses his time in the restaurant to make a sale.
There is never a time when these guys aren't working. That's what the restaurant lets us see.
Speaking of work, welcome to the office. This is where these guys come to look at the board, hit the phones, and argue with each other. Interestingly, when we see the office, it's in utter disarray—the phones have been stolen, the place has been robbed, and there are no leads to be had.
Despite the chaos, they still try to work and they still attempt to reign supreme over each other. Levene comes in hot off a sale, brags about it, and talks about the old times; Roma crows about his sale to Lingk and demands the car he's owed for winning the contest; Aaronow asks when the leads are coming. Heck—Roma even makes a last-ditch effort to hang on to the sale he made to Lingk in the restaurant.
Despite the fact that the office has been gutted, it's still the arena the salesmen come to to one-up each other and work (or at least talk about work). Their ability to go forward despite the disarray, then, suggests that perhaps chaos always reigns supreme in this dog-eat-dog environment.
In the end, two salesmen are left standing. Aaronow chooses to hang around at the office… and Roma heads back over to the restaurant.
"ALWAYS BE CLOSING"—Practical Sales Maxim
Man, that maxim is so powerful it deserves its own monologue. Oh wait—it has one. Phew.
This phrase plays such an important role in the play that when it came time for Mamet to write the screenplay for the film version, he added a character (played by Alec Baldwin) just to deliver a monologue about the maxim. "A-Always. B-Be. C-Closing," he says, and then goes on to berate all of the salesmen in the office.
While the monologue doesn't exist in the original play (though some stage productions have added it over the years), it does still make an appearance. As Shelly recounts his sale to the Nyborgs, Roma is impressed and chimes in with, "Always be closing" (2.1.432).
This is the maxim that they live by. Well, at least Roma seems to live by it. Even a trip to the Chinese restaurant is a chance to close a deal for him.
The epigraph also illustrates the unbelievable pressure on the characters in the play—as Moss says, "The pressure's just too great" (1.2.48-49). There are no breaks for these guys. They have to always be closing, and this pressure is what sends them over the edge. It's what makes Moss come up with the idea to rob the place, it's what leads Levene to carry out the robbery, it's what forces Roma to spin lies in an attempt to hold on to the Lingk sale, and it's what makes Aaronow utterly hate everything about the job.
Mamet's style is all his own, and if you're not used to it, it can take a while to grasp some of the tricks he's playing with language. As a reader it's about a seven on the tough-o-meter (stick with it, and you'll get it), but as an actor, Mamet's a ten on—it can take even the best performers a while to figure out how to handle that Mamet patter. Here's a little taste:
MOSS: It's too…
AARONOW: It is.
AARONOW: It's too…
MOSS: You get a bad month, all of a…
AARONOW: You're on this…
MOSS: All of, they got you on this "board…"
AARONOW: I, I…I…
MOSS: Some contest board. (1.2.65-73)
Yeah—that is not an easy scene to memorize or play. However, when it's done right, it's gold. When attacking Mamet, it's important to find the rhythm of the scene. Remember, sometimes characters are not directly responding to what someone else is saying—sometimes they're simply finishing their own thought from earlier. It's key to figure out why lines are broken the way they are. Starting slow and working your way up in pace gradually can go a long way.
What can you say, some writers just have a style all their own. Mamet is one of those writers. Like we said, his style is so unique, it's got its own word to describe it. Many have tried to imitate it, but it's a tough one to get a hold of. We think the folks at Television Tropes and Idioms do a pretty solid job describing it. According to them, Mamet Speak has the following qualities:
Glengarry Glen Ross gives us a taste of all that is good and Mametian. You can pick any page and get a sense of his style, and here is just one of many exchanges that works perfectly:
MOSS: P.S. Two guys get fucked.
MOSS: You don't ax your sales force.
MOSS: You build it!
AARONOW: That's what I…
MOSS: You fucking build it! (1.2.176-184)
It's all right there: fast, incomplete thoughts, overlapping ideas, repetition, and swears.
The guy really loves swears.
Mamet is by no means the first to create a story in which salesmen seem to symbolize the disintegration of the American Dream, but he does manage to pull it off without beating the audience over the head:
In Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller made the salesman into a symbol for the failure of the American dream. In Miller's play, Willy Loman was out there all alone, on a smile and a shoeshine; Glengarry Glen Ross is a version for modern times. (Source)
These are men who were told that if they went out and worked hard, they could succeed. Instead, though, they find themselves always at the whims of those who are truly running the show:
MOSS: We have to go to them to get them. Huh. Ninety percent our sale, we're paying to the office for the leads.
These are guys who, for all intents and purposes, are busting their butts every day to try to make it, and they still have to fork over the majority of their earnings to the bigwigs in charge. On top of that, they have, for the most part, become broken down and bitter or utterly ruthless. This is Mamet's version of the American Dream… at least in this play.
Ah, the leader board—all the guys need to get on it, and all the guys want to be on top. Throughout the play, the leader board comes to symbolize dominance and even manhood (at least manhood as these gentlemen perceive it), and being on top allows you to command the room and all those around you. This is what Moss says to Roma before Moss hightails it out of the office:
MOSS: You're hot, so you think you're the ruler of this place…?! (2.1.382-383)
As angry as this makes Moss, Roma does come off as a sort of ruler of the office, with others often deferring to him and Williamson giving him preferential treatment. This isn't necessarily because anyone actually likes Roma, but rather because he's on top of the leader board. He's the "man" among men—the alpha dog.
The thing about the leader board that's perhaps most interesting when we think about this play as a critique of the American Dream, though, is that striving for the top ultimately brings about Levene's ruin. Another way to think about this is that by placing a premium on dominance and manhood, everything can be lost.
While one might not immediately think of Mamet's dialogue as being rife with symbolism, the style of the dialogue is in and of itself symbolic of the world of the play. It is fractured, and one character's words halt as another breaks in before the first speaker resumes his previous thought. We're in a world where communication is stilted or even broken at times:
MOSS: Give me some leads. I'm going out… I'm getting out of…
LEVENE: "You have to believe in yourself…"
MOSS: Na, fuck the leads, I'm going home.
LEVENE: "Bruce, Harriet…Fuck me, believe in yourself…" (2.1.325-330)
While at first glance this might look like a conversation, in reality these are two people standing in the same room talking to themselves. Neither responds to anything the other says, and in this way human connection is included in the list of things lost in pursuit of the American Dream.
Okay, nobody ends up with their eyes gauged out like in Oedipus Rex,and there are no sword fights and dead bodies like at the end of Hamlet, but Glengarry Glen Ross still fits the tragedy bill quite nicely.
It might not be a tragedy in the classic sense (and it's actually really funny when it's done well), but our protagonist's journey is a tragic one… and not just because shoulder pads were all the rage in the 1980s.
Enter Shelly "The Machine" Levene. In the old days, this guy could sell anything to anyone—he made his career and the careers of others on his ability to close. But time is a cruel mistress, and things ain't what they used to be; these days, Levene is down on his luck. He hasn't sold anything in a long time, but he knows he can do it again. If he can just get Williamson to give him the good leads, he'll get back on top and he'll reap the rewards of selling once again.
LEVENE: Marshal the leads… marshal the leads? What the fuck, what bus did you get off of, we're here to fucking sell. […] Our job is to sell. I'm the man to sell. (1.1.91-98)
Our hero knows he is the man for the job—he just needs a little help to get back on top. Of course, Williamson isn't going to help him at all though.
The next time we see Levene isn't until Act 2—he starts the play and then disappears for a while—and when we see him, though the office has been robbed, Levene is in great spirits when he comes in, because he has made a big time sale. He's recommitted to his job, and he's getting props from Roma and the other guys. This is just what he wanted:
LEVENE: Get the chalk. Get the chalk… get the chalk! I closed 'em! (2.1.241-242)
Being back in the game is a beautiful thing when you've been gone for a while, and Levene is ready to buy lunch for everybody (we love lunch… just sayin'). He just wants to talk about the sale and how he made it all go down, to relive the glory of his past and look forward to a glorious future.
For those of you who are down with Booker's take on things, you know that the frustration stage is when things start to slip out of control. This slip can seemingly come out of nowhere, and often a shadow figure shows up to threaten our hero. What's that you say? You need a shadow figure? Enter Williamson.
Things look good for Levene, and he's even jumped in to help Roma out, pretending to be a client of his. But then Williamson makes an appearance and blows the Lingk deal for Roma. Roma heads out, and Levene is left face-to-face with his enemy, but when Levene goes off on Williamson, he makes a fatal mistake. He says something that tips Williamson off, and now it's clear Levene is the one who robbed the office. However, things aren't completely lost yet:
WILLIAMSON: What'd you do with the leads? (Pause, Points to Detective's room.) You want to go in there? I tell him what I know, he's going to dig up something... You got an alibi last night? You better have one. What did you do with the leads? If you tell me what you did with the leads, we can talk. (2.1.1048-1054)
Okay, things look bad for our boy Levene, but there is still hope—he can tell Williamson what he did and avoid having to tell the cops. Do you know what good old Booker says has to happen in a tragedy at this point, though? Booker says our hero might engage in some "dark acts." So, what does Levene do? He rats out Moss. Ouch.
WILLIAMSON: How much did you get for them?
LEVENE: Five thousand. I kept half.
WILLIAMSON: Who kept the other half? (Pause.)
LEVENE: Do I have to tell you? (Pause. Williamson starts to open the door.) Moss.
WILLIAMSON: That was easy wasn't it? (2.1.1068-1074)
Now Williamson has all the info he needed. Things are about to get really bad for Levene.
Have you ever been fishing? You dangle the bait out there on a line, in hopes that a fish comes along, thinks it's a tasty treat, and grabs it. It's one big trick, if you think about it, and if all goes well, soon you've got yourself a nice little fish on the line.
Williamson does pretty much the same thing with Levene. He throws out bait, and Levene totally bites. He thinks that by telling Williamson what he did with the leads and who helped him, Williamson will help him out, but instead Williamson just sells him out anyway. Levene begs for mercy, even offering Williamson a fifty percent cut of all his future commissions. It's not about money for Williamson, though; he's won the battle:
WILLIAMSON: No, I think I don't want your money. I think you fucked up my office. And I think you're going away. (2.1.1113-1115)
Before he seals Levene's fate though, Williamson is going to make it hurt a little more. He tells Levene that the big sale Levene made earlier is a sham—the check will bounce, and the buyers are frauds. Levene's got nothing to hang his hat on now, and nothing he can use as a bargaining chip.
In the grand old tragedies, this would be the moment where Levene blinds himself or dies in some violent or unnecessary manner. But this is "real life," and there are worse things than losing your eyes. Levene knows now that he could go to jail, and—and this might be even worse than prison—his reputation is shot. Plus he's been beaten by that sniveling little company man, Williamson. And why? Well, this might be Williamson's most brilliant little barb of all:
WILLIAMSON: Because I don't like you.
LEVENE: John… John… my daughter.
WILLIAMSON: Fuck you. (2.1.1167-1170)
Levene, our tragic hero, has prided himself on his ability to talk to people—to win them over and to close them—and he's a man who wants respect for what he's done. In the end though, it's the fact that he's never given Williamson an ounce of respect at all that brings about his undoing. Williamson doesn't like him, and Levene is going to pay for it. There's no hope now—Levene is a broken, beaten man.
Act 1 is all exposition. Mamet doles out bits and pieces of information in each scene that will all make sense in the final Act.
We jump right in with Williamson and Levene. From them, we get a sense that there is tension in the air, and it's all about getting on the board for the sales contest and about the leads:
LEVENE: The Glengarry Highland's leads, you're sending Roma out. Fine. He's a good man. We know what he is. He's fine. All I'm saying, you look at the board… he's throwing… wait, wait, wait, he's throwing them away. (1.1.2-6)
We also learn that Levene is desperate:
WILLIAMSON: The hot leads are assigned by the board. During the contest. Period […] Either way. You're out. (1.1.143-148)
Scene 2 gives us Moss and Aaronow and the idea that something big might just happen. These are guys who are tired of just sitting around and taking what they're given from the higher-ups. These are guys who, like Levene, have gotten desperate:
MOSS: Someone should stand up and strike back.
AARONOW: Someone should hurt them.
MOSS: Someone should rob the office. (1.2.199-214)
Ah, Ricky Roma—smooth, crafty, Ricky Roma. Through Roma's hypnotic ramblings, we get a sense of why he is the guy atop the leader board even before we recognize his scheming. He talks and talks and talks about all kinds of stuff, but we ultimately find out that he's making a sales pitch to Lingk:
ROMA: I'm glad to meet you, James. I want to show you something. It might mean nothing to you… and it might not. I don't know. I don't know anymore. (Pause. He takes out a small map and spreads it on the table). What is that? Florida. Glengarry Highlands. Florida. "Florida. Bullshit." And maybe that's true; and that's what I said: but look here: what is this? This is a piece of land. Listen to what I'm going to tell you now: (1.3.95-105)
And yes, Act 1 does end with a ":"
Things start to heat up in Act 2. At the top of the Act, we learn there's been a break in—the leads are gone, and tensions are high. The cops are on site, and the guys are not pleased, though things get a little brighter when Leven enters—he's turned his luck around and made a big time sale. So the leads got stolen—at least Roma's contract is safe and Levene is back on the board. Things are going to be all right… even if Moss has taken off for the great state of Wisconsin.
Then Lingk shows up and you can feel the invisible noose tightening. Things are too tense and too out of control. Levene is pretending to be Roma's big-spending client, Roma's spinning lie after lie—there's just no way it can hold, people, no way.
Shelly "the Machine" Levene is back, baby. But don't take our word for it—let him tell you himself:
LEVENE: I'm back… I'm back, this is only the beginning. (2.1.1142-1143)
He made a sale, he's railing on Williamson, and he's his old self. Not so fast, Levene—Williamson catches him on what amounts to a verbal technicality. That's right—Levene "the Machine"—outed himself as the thief without even knowing it. Oops. The mystery is solved, though things are looking pretty grim for Levene.
Levene tries to cut a deal with Williamson, and for a hot second it looks like Williamson might go for it, but we know Williamson by now, and we know that he's kind of a jerk. He demands Levene go talk to him and the cops. "Why?" Levene asks Williamson, by which he means Why won't you let me off the hook?
WILLIAMSON: Because I don't like you. (2.1.1168)
Ouch, right? There's only one thing to do after reading a line like that. Listen to "Cold as Ice" by Foreigner (preferably live).
Levene is heading in to talk to the cops. Unaware of what's going down, Roma tells Williamson that he's going to take fifty percent of Levene's commissions from here on out. It turns out that for all his talk about wanting to work with Levene, Roma really just saw another way to make more money for himself. After that, there are only two things left to cover: the leads and that good old Chinese restaurant:
AARONOW: Did the leads come in yet?
AARONOW: (Settling into a desk chair): Oh, God, I hate this job.
ROMA: (Simultaneous with "job," exiting the office): I'll be at the restaurant. (2.1.1244-1250)
That's it—that's the last line of the play. Levene might be going off to jail, Moss has fled, and the whole office is a mess, but Aaronow still needs the leads, and Roma is going about business just like he always does.
A lot of two-act plays actually fall right in line with the classic three-act structure. Glengarry Glen Ross is not one of those plays. You can make it work, and there definitely is a build in the play, but it's just not done in that good old traditional way. The way Mamet handles his Act 1 just kind of mixes things up. He doesn't build things like one block stacking on top of another, and instead he lets us get to know his characters two-at-a-time. The order of things works, but one scene doesn't necessarily build directly on anything from the scene before.
Anyway, we can still take a look at the three-act structure, even if it doesn't work out perfectly.
This is Mamet's Act 1—an Act entirely about character and exposition. In Mamet's Act 1 we get a taste of Levene's desperation, Williamson's disdain, Moss's anger, Aaronow's confusion, and Roma's slickness.
We also learn some things we need to know: There's a sales contest going on, and all of these guys are a part of it. Jobs are on the line. Moss thinks someone should break into the office and steal the leads, and Roma pitches a sale to Lingk.
By the end of Act 1, Mamet has planted all the seeds for what will happen in Act 2—he's just done it through dialogue and scenes where two people talk, as opposed to doing it through action. Seriously, when this play is done well, you could listen to these guys talk at each other for hours and not worry one way or the other if anything is really going to happen. Sure, this exchange might not get us anywhere plot-wise, but it still just hums when two really good actors play the scene:
MOSS: Yes. It is simple, and you know what the hard part is?
AARONOW: What hard part?
MOSS: Of doing the thing. The dif… the difference. Between me and Jerry Graff. Going to business for yourself. The hard part is… you know what it is?
MOSS: Just the act.
AARONOW: What act? (1.2.151-162)
Mamet's Act 1 snaps with the rhythm of these guys. We get to see the back and forth between them, and we know who they are (or at least we think we do) by the end of the Act. Characters have been built, plot points have been hit, and we're primed for a big event.
The classic Act II makes up a good portion of Mamet's Act 2. The office has been broken into, i.e. something has happened. Yay. Of course, we didn't see it happen since it happened during intermission while we were grabbing a Snickers bar or something. Remember that this is not a play about big action sequences though, so it's no surprise that the robbery takes place off stage.
The classic Act II takes us through about the time Moss makes his final departure from the office. The leads are gone, a cop's in the office, and tension is high, but it still seems like things might just work out fine for some of the guys. Levene comes in bragging about a huge sale, and Roma signed a deal with Lingk that put him over the top on the board. Looks like someone's got a sweet new car coming his way.
WILLIAMSON: It went down. I filed it.
ROMA: You did?
ROMA: Then I'm over the fucking top and you owe me a Cadillac. (2.1.55-59)
So Roma is on top, and then Levene comes in with his great news about the sale. Tension is building with Moss and Aaronow, but it's not happening in a suspensful thriller kind of way—it's still just guys talking about work and life and taking shots at each other.
Things don't get too bad until Moss takes off, and this is probably the first time when we get a sense that not all of these guys are getting out of here so easy. After all, we heard Moss talking to Aaronow about breaking in, and Moss is angry (okay, even angrier than usual) and Aaronow seems really freaked out by the whole situation.
Moss takes his anger out on Roma and Levene, and then bolts for good:
MOSS: Who the fuck are you, Mr. Slick… ? What are you, friend to the workingman? Big deal. Fuck you, you got the memory of a fuckin' fly. I never liked you.
ROMA: What is this, your farewell speech?
MOSS: I'm going home.
ROMA: Your farewell to the troops?
MOSS: I'm not going home. I'm going to Wisconsin.
ROMA: Have a good trip.
MOSS: (simultaneously with "trip"): And fuck you. Fuck the lot of you. Fuck you all.
Moss exits. Pause.
ROMA (To Levene): You were saying?
Boom—Moss storms out in dramatic, obscenity-spouting fashion, Roma takes a beat, and we go right back to where we were before Moss's outburst.
Getting Moss out of the office and sending Aaronow to the back with the cop is a nice little trick Mamet pulls. The two guys we have seen talk about the robbery are now off stage, freeing us up to ignore the robbery for a while and just deal with what Roma and Levene have to say.
This leads us into what would be the classic Act 3.
We're still in Mamet's Act 2 (remember, this play only has two acts). Moss supposedly ran off to Wisconsin, and Aaronow is getting grilled by the cops. Roma is on top and Levene is back, baby. Despite the fact that there are no leads and no phones, things are looking pretty good for the two guys on stage. They talk about Levene's big time sale he just made and talk about the old days.
Then Lingk shows up. Ugh. Lingk is the dupe that Roma didn't quite finish off, and as soon as Roma sees Lingk approaching, he knows what's going to go down. So what does he do? Does he look to have an honest conversation with the guy he talked into buying a bunch of property? Of course not—this is Ricky Roma. Instead, he creates an elaborate scheme on the spot, and Levene jumps in without blinking:
Roma sees something outside the window.
ROMA (Sotto): You're a client. I just sold you five water-front Glengarry Farms. I rub my head, throw me the cue "Kenilworth."
LEVENE: What is it?
Lingk enters the office. (2.1.573-582)
Okay, so good-natured schlub Lingk steps in and tells Roma he has to cancel the contract and the check and the sale. Roma, being the consummate salesman that he is, does everything in his power to put Lingk off and focus on his fake client being portrayed by Levene.
In a rare show of fortitude though, Lingk won't take no for an answer, and not even the dizzying Mamet-speak that Roma throws his way can make Lingk go away. Roma assures Lingk that the check hasn't even been cashed and the contract hasn't been filed, so they have plenty of time to deal with the situation.
Things start to get a little crazy when Aaronow comes out of the back office, and the cop starts shouting for Levene who (you remember) is pretending to be a client of Roma's. Seriously—this thing could go the way of farce if it gets any more out of control, but Roma won't give in to the chaos. He has to hold onto the sale he closed with Lingk.
Here is just a glimpse of Mamet at his circular, infuriating best. Roma does all he can to use empty speech to buy himself some time and save the deal with Lingk:
LINGK: It's not me, it's my wife.
ROMA (Pause): What is?
LINGK: I told you.
ROMA: Tell me again.
LINGK: What's going on here?
ROMA: Tell me again. Your wife.
LINGK: I told you.
ROMA: You tell me again. (2.1.822-829)
Roma's verbal gymnastics seem to be working—Lingk isn't willing to just go away, and he seems like he might be willing to let Roma talk to his wife to see what the problem is (Roma is that good). Either way, we see that Roma might be able to stall Lingk long enough for the check/contract to go through without Lingk being able to do anything.
But then Williamson enters, and all hell breaks loose. That's kind of what Williamson is all about—being a seemingly mild-mannered middle manager who destroys all those around him. Not a bad gig, we guess, since he is the one who always seems to come out on top in the end.
So Williamson enters not really knowing the situation. He assures Lingk that his check and contract went through and weren't affected by the robbery. Agh—this is the exact opposite of what Roma needed him to say after spending so much time trying to convince Lingk that nothing has been filed.
Even Lingk isn't foolish enough to stick around now, and he hightails it out of there, telling Roma not to follow him. The deal is a bust. You know what feels good in a situation like this? Yelling at Williamson (apparently).
Roma and Levene light into Williamson, but eventually Roma has to go to the back office to talk to the cop, so Levene takes the yelling-at-Williamson project upon himself. Levene just can't keep his mouth shut, and this is what takes him down and brings us to the climax of the play:
LEVENE: You're going to make something up, be sure it will help or keep your mouth closed. (Pause)
WILLIAMSON: How do you know I made it up? (1.2.1017-1022)
That's it—Williamson has got him now. If Levene could have taken his own advice and kept his mouth closed, maybe things would have shaken out differently. We'll never know though, because that one little line sealed his fate.
Levene knew Williamson was lying about filing the contract and cashing the check, because he knew the contract was still on Williamson's desk. How'd Levene know? Because he saw the contract on Williamson's desk when he was breaking into the office to steal the leads.
The mystery is now solved, and Levene's journey is complete. He wanted to get back in the game, but instead, he's finished for good. All that's left in the play is Aaronow asking for leads and complaining about the job, and Roma heading over to the Chinese restaurant.