Perhaps most familiar from his work in Blue Heelers, The Reef, and as the host of Channel Seven’s Crash Investigation Unit, Australian actor Damian Walshe-Howling is also a veteran of the stage, and he’s about to sink his teeth into one of most notorious American plays of all time – David Mamet’s towering Glengarry Glen Ross.
“When Kate (Cherry, director of this production and artistic director of Black Swan State Theatre Company) called me last year and said, do you want to do Glengarry, I nearly fell over.” Damian Walshe-Howling says. Glengarry Glen Ross is undoubtedly Mamet’s most famous work. The play, which uncovers the foibles and insecurities if an office full of blustering, macho real estate salesmen with remorseless clarity, won the Pulitzer in 1984 and was later adapted to the screen by James Foley. It’s a tremendous work – and a somewhat intimidating one, given the long shadow of its reputation. “I think as a play…” he trails off as he plumbs his memory for his first experience of Glengarry Glen Ross.
“As a movie it was back in the ’90s, probably the early ’90s. I only saw the film once, years and years ago – I remember it pretty well. I remember it being a really dynamic piece of writing. Then in the late ’90s, 1999, I studied in New York at the Atlantic Theatre Company, which is (David) Mamet and (William H.) Macy’s theatre school which they started in the ’80s – about the time that he wrote this, actually. We were reading playwrights from all over America but we were obviously reading a lot of Mamet because the school is very dedicated to his way of working. There were two plays that I discovered at that point: this and a John Patrick Shanley play called Danny And The Deep Blue Sea, which was a great piece of writing. So, around that time I was getting interested in a great deal of American theatre and I read a lot of Mamet, and this one really stuck out.”
Walshe-Howling’s experience at the Atlantic left him with a high opinion of Mamet as an artist, although he allows that the famed playwright is a fractious figure. “I think he’s a highly intelligent person, intellectually and emotionally – I think he has an incredible balance of those two things. I think he’s someone who famously has struggled with his own emotional life in a way, but I think he, like a lot of people who struggle with their emotions, has a lot of sensitivity. I think the play, it’s all about this high octane world that people like to call masculine, but I always think to myself ‘What the fuck is masculine?’
It’s all about survival really, and all that aggression, when it comes out, it has to be based on vulnerability, it has to be based on what these guys have to lose. If they had nothing to lose, they wouldn’t be fighting for anything. So I think there’s a lot of vulnerability in the show and, even though it’s not outwardly expressed, it’s there.”
Glengarry Glen Ross runs at the State Theatre Centre from May 23 – June 14. For tickets and session times, go to bsstc.com.au.