To fully appreciate the context and background of Glengarry Glen Ross it helps to know who Thorstein Veblen was, to be familiar with postmodern literary techniques and—perhaps most importantly—not assume that just because you saw the movie you know the screenplay that David Mamet adapted from his play that you know the play itself. Hate to break this to you, but you need to know: the character that Alec Baldwin plays in the movie is nowhere to be found in the play.
What is in the play are all those hustling real estate salesman desperate to get their hands on the hot leads. And the plot to burglarize the office and steal the leads is there. Even the Chinese restaurant can be found on the stage. In fact, Act One is comprised of three separate scenes set in a booth inside that Chinese restaurant. The conversations about planning the break-in as well as that odd semi-monologue that Ricky Roma delivers before it is revealed that the guy he’s dining with is not another salesman at all, but a client take are presented as self-contained two-character scenes taking place inside the restaurant. For that matter, the scene where the old salesman tries to broker a deal to buy a couple of hot leads also takes places inside the restaurant.
Act Two plays uninterrupted as a series of conversations taking place in the office the next morning amid the unseen interrogation by the police concerning the burglary.
The structure is important because the play is all about creating a multifaceted narrative that the alert audience member will put together to form a coherent analysis of the play’s meaning. And since David Mamet is a vocal admirer of the 19th century American economist who coined the term “conspicuous consumption” and has admitted that Thorstein Veblen’s critique of capitalism was inspiration for writing the play, you may it helpful when putting the clues together to arrive at a justifiable meaning by becoming familiar with one of Veblen’s quotes that could very well be emblazoned across the type of motivational posters in a sales office like that portrayed in Glengarry Glen Ross:
“All business sagacity reduces itself in the last analysis to judicious use of sabotage.”