Brighton Fringe 2016
Pretty Villain bring a taut wholly idiomatic revival of Mamet’s 1982 breakthrough play, directed by Roger Kay, to the Rialto.
This is perhaps Mamet’s signature play brought to the Rialto by Pretty Villain productions, an eight-strong ensemble directed by Roger Kay.
The two acts are simply-staged, the first a series of duets spotlit at different bar tables and the second a sacked office, documents littering the front row, actors rushing up and down aisles. The duets set up rivalries and plea-bargainings. John Tolputt’s Shelley Levene – straight out of Miller’s Death of a Salesman, with a twist – begs manager Williamson (convincingly mean Duncan Henderson) to give him some of the prime Glengarry leads only the two top-scoring salesmen will get. The Glen Ross chickenfeed leads yield nothing. Henderson’s tight-jawed negatives then cat’s-paw mauling of Machine Levene – once top salesman – elicits Tolputt’s ever-desperate gambits.
Elsewhere Alpha Ricky Roma – generous-seeming but ruthless where necessary – philosophizes to hapless sales-victim Lingk. Steve Chusak manages to convey generous-speaking Mafiosi. Roma’s reflective, outlining gleaming hinterlands when there might be just glitterballs. Larry Yates’ Lingk later on gives a masterclass in mute cringing victimhood, racked between ferocious wife and dominant Roma. His physical discomfort shivers across; when he stammers it’s difficult to watch anyone else. The final pair provide the engine: Tom Dussek’s magnificently nasty bully Moss threatens to make nervous Aaronow an accessory to his plan to steal the coveted sales-leads and sell on. Moss sneers that even hearing of it’s enough to make Aaronow a criminal. And since Moss would be an obvious suspect, Aaronow must do it. Robert Cohen, known for American buffalos of all types, here amplifies his range in a study of headlight-caught terror, stuttering guilt. He goes distractedly to pieces before us.
He’s guilty as hell when brutish detective Baylen (Nick Bartlett) starts quizzing in forehead-bulging hard-boil mode; indeed all characters particularly Roma hurl Baylen panicky insults. Roma’s need to control his persona and its slippages is admirably sheathed by Chusak like a glinting knife. The pressure allows Williamson – no salesman – to let fall crucial information just as Lingk shows up. Henderson proves why Williamson’s boss though; a sneery tight-arsed son of (comparative) privilege who misses one situation but not another.
Tolputt arrays an amplitude of selves: to Roma who admires and wants to work with him though cutting himself double; from pleading to triumphant hutzpah with Williamson when closing an unexpected deal – lovingly described to Roma in the drama’s iconic Eighties moment. Toplutt’s accent is New Hampshire at best where others are convincingly New York, but his characterization’s excellent.
All’s not as it seems though; the denouement shows why this play’s so esteemed. If only Mamet could have given more lines to Kitty Newbury’s waitress Bonnie.
The ensemble’s immersion in Mamet is impressive; each flinched self-betrayal in the second act is caught too. Mamet’s language is a gift though wielded like an open razor, cuts unwary speakers. Here we see the hyper-naturalism now dominating the American stage, freshly arriving with visceral force: not to communicate but dominate. Both as critique and endorsement of a more conservative America, it specializes in meta-patois that isolate even mutual users from each other.
Kay’s detailed but pacey direction is as clean as Sam Eddison’s lighting, and as unobtrusively idiomatic as a pair of red braces. Uniformly a tight, thoroughly professional production worth seeing anywhere.