Saturday, June 6, 2009

review - Oleanna

by David Mamet
directed by Doug Hughes

Mark Taper Forum
through July 12

This is not the first time I have seen Mamet's Oleanna, but it is the first time that it has provoked me to a level of wrath I found impossible to contain. Like many in the audience I was squirming in my seat, but more than the others, I found myself choking Carol (Julia Stiles) as John (Bill Pullman) was physically manipulating her so onstage. Isn't this the reaction that Mamet wants? Isn't John driven to violent acts by the ruthless and senseless verbal abuse of the student? You see, I am a teacher and a caring one like John, who just happens to have a sense of humor about life, like John and who has a tendency to say too much at the wrong time, like John.
We are easy victims for those who overanalyze, overcriticize and then usurp control. A power many women hve used effectively and unjustly to gain equality in the workplace or just to get what they want.
I abhor the character of Carol who pretends not to understand, preys on her professor's vulnerabilities and faults and then destroys him and his future. This is to Julia Stiles' credit who plays the role of the student without a flaw. Carol has an agenda, charts her course and will do anything it takes to carry it through. Pullman as John is also outstanding. His easygoing manner and sympathy little by little turn to frustration and confusion until finally he becomes unglued. Pullman utilizes subtle gestures and body language meticulously throughout. And of course, Doug Hughes' direction of the duo is taught and brilliantly paced. But, again, let's leave the most applause to David Mamet whose uncanny use of fractured language and unexpected transitions surprise, intrigue and challenge us to think long after the play takes its last breath.
There are an incredible number of layers in this play. The question of the value of higher education, abuse of power, playing God are but a few issues that come to mind . And with freedom of thought being put to the test, I watch with sadness just how greatly fascist ideals have empowered our thinking and behavior. Is censorship around the corner? Mamet's power is at play.
Set design by Neil Patel and clever sound cues of the opening and closing of window blinds between scenes to conceal and reveal certain behaviors add greatly to the play's intrigue.
5 out of 5 stars


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