Ruthless business and the chutzpah needed to succeed in that environment are captured by a Shanghai-based English-language theater troupe, Urban Aphrodite, in its latest production, “Glengarry Glen Ross.”
The local production of the 1984 Pulitzer Prize winner for Best Drama relies on some veteran actors but also brings fresh faces to the city stage.
The play follows two days in the lives of four real estate agents as they compete to sell undesirable property regardless of ethics.
The play was one of the early successes of David Mamet, the acclaimed playwright-turned-film writer and director. The play debuted at the National Theatre in London and was remade into a critically acclaimed 1993 film starring Al Pacino and a cast and crew that collectively was nominated for 20 Oscars, with six wins, and 22 Emmys, also with six wins.
“This may be set in the 1980s but in this global village, it may be more relevant today because it portrays the world of cutthroat business,” says one of the show’s stars, Dave Earl. “These kinds of people, where it’s just about the dollar, are still around. People can relate to that just like they can still relate to Shakespeare because they deal with personalities.”
Earl, who is British, stars as Shelley Levene, a once great sales agent on a prolonged cold streak. Levene is one of the sales agents feeling pressure from management.
Unimpressed by sales numbers, manager Blake gives the real estate agents four days to sell undesirable properties such as Glengarry Highlands and Glen Ross Farms with all but the top two salesmen being fired.
“While I don’t think I have his personality, I certainly understand where he’s coming from,” says New York native Dave Taylor, who plays Blake. “In a sales environment, most sales managers literally don’t care about who you are. Mamet really captures the essence of that type of personality where it’s straight about numbers.”
The show is set in the early 1980s, a “greed-is-good” period of American history when businesses were making record profits until the 1987 stock market crash. While that led to new regulations, another big boom-and-crash cycle occurred two decades later.
“Art often stimulates some source of social discourse,” says Taylor, a 33-year-old venture capitalist in real life. “In the 1980s, the US was going through this period of capitalist craze where there were no rules. It was as barbaric as the US had ever seen capitalism. Plays like this and the movie ‘Wall Street’ really forced people to look at themselves and ask how they can improve on this.”
Although Taylor may boss Earl and the other actors around in the play, he praises the Shanghai acting veteran for guiding him through his on-stage debut. Taylor is one of six actors in the show who are new to Shanghai’s stage. They won their parts through an open audition in September.
“It’s so nice to have fresh faces because in an expat community like this, you can fall into a trap where it’s the same people but different characters,” Earl saidys. “They’re bringing their own dynamic to it and I’m enjoying watching these guys get into their roles.”
Date: October 17-27 (Thursday-Sunday), 8pm
Venue: Sasha’s, 3/F, 1 Dongping Rd
Tickets: 200 yuan (in advance), 220 yuan (at door)