Glengarry Glen Ross opens with various members of a real estate sales force talking about their all-consuming passion: selling property to anyone who comes within their orbit. The men are preoccupied with securing the precious “leads,” tips that will put them in contact with potential buyers. Throughout the first act, the men remind one another that whoever rises to the top of the sales chart will win the ultimate prize—a Cadillac. The runner-up will win a set of steak knives; those who fail to produce will simply be fired. All of act 1, consisting of three quick-paced scenes, takes place in a Chinese restaurant in Chicago.
By the time the first act concludes, it is clear that these men are under enormous pressure to sell land—any land, even when its value is dubious—to any client who happens by. Shelley Levene, one of the older members of the sales team, pleads with John Williamson, the office manager, for good (rather than bogus) leads that will allow him to recover from his sales slump. Williamson, wanting to see only one thing—sales—shows little interest in Levene’s desperate pleas. In turn, the salesmen lament how bad business has been and what a cutthroat profession selling real estate has become. All of them appear on edge, but the fiftyish Levene and Dave Moss seem especially driven. All the men are garbed appropriately in business suits, but as the play progresses their appearance degenerates until they are haggard and disheveled.
Since selling has failed him, Moss resorts to crime, scheming to steal the precious leads that Williamson keeps in the safe, ransack the office to make it appear that someone from the outside committed the crime, and then sell the leads to rival brokers. The bigoted Moss tries in act 1, scene 2 to enlist the kindly George Aaronow to be the hit man in the burglary, but Aaronow, who acts as the raissonneur, refuses. Moss then turns to the desperate Levene (the audience, however, does not realize that Levene is the culprit until the very end of the play).
Act 1, scene 3 closes at the restaurant, as Ricky Roma enters into what appears to be a friendly conversation with James Lingk, a stranger who happens by for a drink. Roma, the star of the sales team, quickly turns the conversation to business. Youthful and handsome, Roma exudes a certain flair, a personal style that clearly sets him apart from his colleagues. Whereas the others talk about their past conquests and how, with a little luck, future sales will restore them to the top of the sales chart, Roma produces. He quickly seizes the opportunity to talk with the unsuspecting Lingk about buying property.
In act 2, which consists of one extended episode, the burglary has already occurred: The office is in a shambles, and Baylen, a police detective, grills each man in an offstage back room. Having succumbed to Roma’s hard-sell tactics, Lingk decides to buy Glengarry Highlands. Lingk’s wife, however, vetoes the deal, prompting him to return unexpectedly to the office (the setting for the remainder of the play). Confused, Lingk attempts to cancel the transaction. Roma quickly enlists Levene, who happens to be in the office; together the two salesmen improvise, weaving a series of lies that serve to deepen Lingk’s confusion and buy extra time for Roma. If Roma can avoid Lingk for a bit longer, he will be locked into the purchase, regardless of his wish to void the contract. So the two sales partners invent a vaudevillian story to escape from the office and delay Lingk’s cancellation plans until after the allowable three days.
The most effective and damaging lie Roma devises is his attempt to allay Lingk’s fears by professing friendship over business: “Forget the deal, Jimmy. (Pause.) Forget the deal . . . you know me.” Moments later, Roma adds, “Now I want to talk to you because you’re obviously upset and that concerns me.” Human compassion, he argues, overrules this particular business transaction. By this point,...
(The entire section is 3,547 words.)