In this play, Mamet has found his strongest metaphor for the complexity of human relationships. A group of salesmen, vying for “leads” to hot prospects for a Florida land scheme, make use of language not only to “close” their prospects but also to obfuscate their actual intentions, which include robbing the “leads” from the real estate office. On the surface, every salesman is a man for himself, and the last emotion one would expect is friendship and loyalty among them. They can only judge their success by the sales they make, and the “board” of the contest is the measurement of that success. The best leads get the best closes, and if a man is too far down on the list of persons getting leads, he never has a chance to catch up. In this respect, the play is reminiscent of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman (1949), because the American Dream of success is separated from the method, from the moral premise behind success.
The first-act scenes in the restaurant are hard-edged dialogues, almost monologues with a responding listener. Moss and Aaronow, whom the audience originally suspects for the office break-ins, are an example of the intimidation relationship in which Mamet excels. Aaronow is drawn into the robbery by dint of Moss’s ability to “sell” his guilt to him. As in American Buffalo, the criminal turns his crime around into a sort of revenge against someone who did not play by the rules—here it is Moss, showing Aaranow that to steal the leads is a just punishment for Williamson, whose job is to give the leads out. Williamson, it is noted, has never closed a sale, has never been out there in the field, but is a pawn of the offstage owners, Mitch and Murray.
In a sense, there is something besides Florida real estate being sold: reputation, one’s place on the sales board, even one’s loyalty to the police, are all for sale. At the center of the play is Roma’s and Levene’s friendship, despite their competition for the Cadillac. When they are both winners, when the sales are closing, they share a frenetic energy and understanding of the almost sexual exaltation of success. When Levene defends Roma to Williamson, the audience sees a side of him that is soft and more likeable; however, the revealing of that very softness is the undoing of Levene, when he accidentally lets Williamson know that he was the actual burglar in the previous night’s incident. Williamson immediately pounces on the flaw, and Levene is discovered as the crook. In the meantime, Roma does not even realize what his friend has done for him, as he pursues a lost sale.
The fast-talking world of Florida (and Arizona) real estate sales is a world where the men function only in direct proportion to their ability to hide themselves, to seek the fast buck. It is a hollow relationship but one with certain unspoken rules. The three-day rule, in which a customer has three days to cancel his deal, is a rule imposed from outside. The customers who are never serious, such as the Indians and the Nyborg family (famous for writing bad checks), are looked down on by the salesmen as unfair players, as wastes of time. Stealing the leads and selling them to a competitor is a way of breaking the rules of the business they are in, but more importantly, it confuses the order of success among the men.
Mamet found inspiration from his own brief work in such a sales office and from “those guys you see on planes” who are the businessmen at work, artificial in their own relationships, competing daily, either directly or indirectly, for the same dollar. Very little daydreaming is actually done about spending the money, about eventually relaxing and enjoying the fruits of their labors. At the moment, like racehorses, they are in the race, and every bit of energy must go into winning it.
Events such as Levene’s triumphant entrance and depiction of his grand sale to Bruce and Harriet Nyborg (underscored by Aaranow’s disgruntled “I had them on River Glen”)...
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