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Sunday, 3 August 2014





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Government Gazette


Glenngarry Glenn Ross:

Sell at any cost, or lose it all

(Part 1)

The very first time I heard about Glenngarry Glenn Ross was on an episode of the X-Files. It was the episode titled Never Again on which Dana Scully says, “The last time I went on a date was to see Glenngarry Glenn Ross, and the actors had a better time than I did.” That episode was aired well over a decade ago, but for some reason that line stuck with me.

From what I could deduce I reckoned that it was surely a movie that Scully was referring to and my impression was that it was obviously a boring one. Probably it had an insipid plot and unremarkable acting. But then, Scully was not referring to the theatre production of Glenngarry Glenn Ross directed by Gehan Blok which had its opening night on July 17, at the Punchi Theatre in Borella.

The show marked the directorial debut of actor of stage and screen Gehan Blok who as part of the Identities Inc. theatre group presented theatregoers a commendable piece of theatre.

A play by American playwright David Mamet, what is at the core of this story is the cries and whimpers of the under performer, the under achiever, and the victimisation that befalls them in the target driven system of competitive marketing and sales, and the sardonic travesty that belies the ‘American dream’ built on the ‘glories of consumerism’ as the virtue which defines the ethos o ‘Americanism’.


Theatre in Sri Lanka principally performs the function of entertainment for people who enjoy a break in the form of engaging their time in an artistic creation delivered through performance.

Theatre as a catalyst for social change has very little or no relevance in our contemporary mainstream Sri Lankan society, unfortunately. How relevant is a play such as Glenngarry Glenn Ross for today’s urban Sri Lankan?

Providing that the corporate marketing jocks of today would care to delve into the text of the play for its messages to the viewers, and providing that they dwell on what they find as possibly meaningful to understand the ‘humane factor’ that gets stripped off the ‘human capital’ that forms the crux of any profiteering venture when the sole motive is ‘money at any cost’, this story has much to offer as food for thought to present day urban Sri Lanka.

The critique that can be deciphered as per the playwright’s story written for the stage which has been also adapted to screen in the US, is directed at corporate culture in the US and what it does to people.

If the capacity to create money, to ‘earn’ is the sole yardstick for assessing ‘human worth’, the criticism the play levels at American capitalism is that it is a ‘machinery of mercenaries’ where the general belief of the ‘political animalism’ in man is led through a modern world transpiration –‘corporate animalism’.

Ethics and morality are made mythical or even downright defunct is what the real estate salesmen in the story tell you. It is a story of how desperation leads those who are desperate to survive to make desperate bids at earning a right to ‘try and make earnings’ for themselves by serving the company they have indentured themselves to in a new form of serfdom.

Aspects of stagecraft

Going into the aspects of the production that came alive on the boards that evening on July 17 as I sat in the gentle darkness of the Punchi Theatre’s balcony, much can be said when reviewing the ‘performance as a text’. Theatre is an art composed of audio and visual communication. The eye and the ear of the audience must be addressed to render the full effect of the intention of the director.

Unless of course the play is a wordless play in the form of something as ‘mime acting’ in which case it is only the ‘visual dimension’ that must be addressed. I bring up these points of breaking down the fabric of the performance to better address with the aim of a dissection of the different elements of the performance for what it may be worth as an analysis of the components of acting and stagecraft.

On the visual front one may focus on the aspects of stagecraft as regarding the ‘set’ and the acting of the players within the restriction of its visual element which means of course the facial expressions and physical gestures which can I suppose be labelled as demeanour sans the verbal output – the orally delivered auditory elements that can be in the form of the spoken word or intelligible speech or oral (non verbal) signs as sounds that signal exclamation, boredom, indignation and so on.

And quite apart from what the two other pivotal elements that are part of the audio and visual dimensions are ‘music and/or sounds’ and ‘lighting’. These elements can be generally perceived as forming the fabric of the production as it unfolds on stage as a performance and may be read as a text for its different significations that may reveal ideas, messages within the subtext of the play as well as the skill and competence of the players from the point of what they add to the text as a whole through their individual performances.


I’d first like to comment on the aspect of the ‘drama set’ segmentation which was devised with what seemed the need for efficiency with regard to the physical parameters of the theatre, which is of course a fundamental that every drama director must know to deal with to achieve the best possible outcome to serve his purpose.

The set of the Chinese restaurant where Moss, played by Shanaka Amerasinghe puts out his feeler for an accomplice to burgle the office to his colleague George Aaronow played by Andrea Perera, was a minimalist set which was achieved using the frontage of the stage with a bright red curtain behind the two sets of tables with chairs, closing off from sight the elaborate realistic office set.

With minimum chattels on stage, which included what can be identified commonly as Chinese soup bowls on each table, the director achieved what was clearly conveyed through visual means the premise of a Chinese restaurant that was complemented by soft music that was distinctly of the traditional Chinese type. The choice of colour for the curtain that formed the backdrop –a bright red was significant and effective in this regard as a visual signification connected with dining establishments that serve Chinese cuisine.

The devised method thereby achieved the needful with good effect one may say. The ‘office set’ which was very much the typically elaborate realistic theatre set that recreates in detail a space of actual human habitation was very well done and evinced that no expense had been spared to that end.


On the acting front I would firstly like to start by focusing on the aspect of elocution as diction than diction as dialogue. (The element of dialogue was what made the play an ‘Adults only’ show.)

When I watched Jerome de Silva’s production of A Streetcar named Desire on July 19, 2013, I asked myself, how much service or disservice comes of American accents being attempted in a Sri Lankan production of an American play? While some actors can pull off a rather convincing foreign accent, which need not necessarily be an American accent but other styles of English speech for example the Afrikaner accent I witnessed Vishwajith Gunasekera deliver very commendably in Asinamaali directed by Pujitha de Mel staged on December 24, 2013 not every player proves to be on the same ‘wavelength’ to so say when it comes to that ‘audio’ aspect of a play.

I believe that there is in that directorial decision whether or not go with accentuation to recreate the ‘foreignness’ of the story in respect of performance, quite a hefty gamble to not only the production as a whole but also the individual actor whose competence to produce a foreign accent could compromise his potential to otherwise perform optimally. This was to me evident mostly in the performance of Shanaka Amerasinghe in portraying Moss.

There was to my eye and ear a somewhat discernible labouring in Amerasinghe to keep his speech accentuated while having to deliver the right doses of outbursts to characterise his role. If one were to focus on the physical aspect of his performance on stage his presence was remarkable. The velocity of his voice was undeniable. The sense of agitation and menace he brought to the stage in certain points of the narrative was impactful.

But that burden of having to consciously balance his performance in terms of its physical component which includes not only his own initiated actions but to deliver the right reaction on cue, with the right dose of speech that captures some shade of ‘an American’ from the angle of ‘speech identity’, did not in my opinion do him service.

Had Amerasinghe simply spoken in the Standard English accent Sri Lankans speak perhaps that subtle snag in his performance would not have occurred and his performance would have been much smoother and optimally convincing.

On this same matter Dino Corera who played John Williamson better handled the task of negotiating between producing an English accent akin to Americans and which was a lesser achieved accent in terms of its American merits but had a better ‘balancing of interests’ and elements in terms of individual performances if compared to Amerasinghe’s.

Andrea Perera as George Aaronow, Rajiv Ponweera as Richard Roma, and Dominic Keller as Shelley Levene handled their jobs of delivering performances that dealt with the accent aspect in a manner deftly that ‘spoke’ of their skill to marshal enunciation to suit their needs.

On the other hand Hans Bilimoria who arrives on the scene as the bombastic and sadistically insolent ‘motivator’ delivered a very theatrically devised enunciation of an American accent which to me was not plastic but wooden when taking his performance as a whole.

Bilimoria was too theatricalised. And his manner of diction too reflected that current of the ‘over pronounced dramatic’. However, the character of the arsy anger inciter who crassly flaunts his signs of material affluence such as the wristwatch he wears and the car he drives as testimony to his salesmanship skills, delivered a ‘punchy start’ to keep the audience’s attention unbrokenly fixed to the stage. There is no denying that Bilimoria has the potency to create the power of presence on stage.

An actor when he brings his character to life with speech and actions on stage must live his role not just in respect of what his own production of speech and expressions and gestures must be, but also in respect of reactions to the characters he engages with to bring the scene to life.

In life we find those ‘awkward moments’ of being rendered ‘paused’ or put on hold in the course of a confab between more than two people when the line of question and reply may render us to be furniture until recalled to relevance due to being either addressed by one of the dialoguing parties or by restarting our role of an interlocutor by putting in a line to the talk and rendering ourselves in ‘play mode’ once more.

When an actor delivers his lines on stage he lives in the eye of the viewer at that very moment. But when the moment of speech shifts to another and he is made to be ‘furniture’, a part of the landscape when other players are in the course of delivering their lines, how should he handle this situation of inertia? In my theorisation, their lies the test between actors who act according to their lines and cues and those who ‘live out’ their characters on stage.

It was noticeable to me how when Keller and Corera were performing their ‘duet’ of negotiating means for Levene to break his no sales impasse by getting some support from Williamson by bending the rules, how Keller outdid Corera by creating a character whose sense of acting and reacting to his interlocutor was remarkably more acute and attuned to the time gaps between lines than what Corera presented.

In all fairness to Corera, perhaps the director required him to be somewhat more ‘stiff’ in his demeanour on the basis of the nature of the function the character plays as the office manager? But through the whole of his performance even to the point when Williamson catches on to the misdeed of Levene, Corera when juxtaposed with the characterisation delivered by Keller and Ponweera seemed somewhat cued in his scheme of reacting, falling silent and recommencing his dialogues and expression.

This is, however, by no means a dismissal of Corera about his skill to act on stage. I saw his performance as ‘the Greek’ in Men without shadows directed by Sashane Perera, on the February 7 this year, and it goes without saying that he is clearly an actor talent.

The commentary I have made here must be noted is in the context of comparisons within the fabric of the performance of this particular production.

Miranga Ariyaratne who played the role of the police investigator presented a persona that was relying more on his physical demeanour and non-verbal body language which to an extent made me wonder if in fact he underplayed his role since his verbal output to the ‘auditory scheme’ seemed more routine and functionary rather than impactful.

While it must be admitted that it was not a lead role and the space in respect of ‘onstage time’ Ariyaratne got was much less compared to the actors playing salesmen, I for one feel his marshalling of his verbal element, the presence of his spoken dimension as per his persona, could have been better worked into the fabric of the performance.

There is no doubt he ‘looked’ every inch the copper who won’t cut any corners when it comes to his job as an interrogator, which must be noted to his credit

To be continued

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