While another production of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross may not be surprising, the fact it is being done entirely by a cast of women may very well be to some.
Following its success with an all-female version of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale last summer, Classic Chic Productions is now tackling Mamet’s machismo-fueled story of real estate agents willing to do anything to unload questionable land. Rather than toying with the gender of such iconic roles as Ricky Roma and Shelly “The Machine” Levine though, this all woman cast tackles the story by playing them as intended, as men.
“We’re exploring the nature of men’s relationships with a cast of women,” says director Rachel Peake. “It is not about whether a woman could be like these men, but how we can we start a conversation about the nature of masculinity and femininity.”
Admitting that it is a quintessentially masculine piece, and with no guide to instruct her female actors to play the roles, Peake found advice from the playwright himself.
“I went back and re-read Mamet’s books and he was very definite about his advice for actors: to play the action,” she says. “Knowing what the character’s objective is what is important, and all that bravado, the cock-swinging, are simply the tactics towards that objective.”
Peake is also pragmatic about an all-female cast’s ability to play to the level of machismo inherent in the text, insisting that it is not about putting a new spin on the play, but seeing it through a new set of eyes.
“For some people, I do believe that we are not going to be able to play at the level of machismo that is necessary, but I do think we can honour those parts of the play,” she says. “Even if the audience feels there is a gap, what I’m really hoping is that they will see the maleness in the characters through these women. It is about coming back to the center of what is intended and seeing it new.”
She also says that directing a play of strong male roles with a cast of woman isn’t about doing things differently, but as Mamet says the trick is in finding what drives these characters.
“When we started we had an early conversation about what it is like to play a man on stage,” says Peake. “Many of the artists had worked with Lisa Wolpe last year and we had a conversation early on about what they had learned. We set aside the whole male aspect to some extent, and started playing with the characters for their truth and honesty.”
Some thirty years since Glengarry Glen Ross first appeared on stage, Peake acknowledges that while it is a period piece planted firmly in the eighties, there is relevance for today’s audiences.
“A lot of the conversation in the play is the cutthroat nature of the salesman, which is still very much current,” says Peake. “A big part of the play is also about ‘out with the old and in with the new’ and being left behind. I see that in all sorts of ways today; that idea of being redundant as you age is still very prominent.”
Glengarry Glen Ross plays at the Beaumont Studios (326 West 5th Ave, Vancouver) from June 6-27. Visit https://classicchic.ca for tickets and information.