By Randi Somers
Marc Oliver directs and costars with Ruby Quarton in an intense two-character play, Oleanna, opening Saturday.
Written by David Mamet, the play dramatizes a power struggle between a university professor and one of his female students who accuses him of sexual exploitation and, by doing so, spoils his chances of being awarded tenure.
As in many of these types of conflict, it’s a case of ‘he said, she said’ and sorting out the truth.
The play’s title refers to a 19th-century escapist vision of utopia. Oleanna was a utopian community founded by Norwegian violinist Ole Bull and his wife Anna, thus “Oleanna.” This agricultural community failed because the land it had bought was rocky and infertile and the settlers had to return to Norway. The reference to the failed utopian dream becomes evident as the play unfolds.
The professor, John, is described as “a smug, pompous, insufferable man who unconsciously abuses his power over academic lives.“ One critic describes female lead, Carol, as, “Mamet’s (the playwright) most fully realized female character, … a mousy, confused cipher” whose failure to comprehend concepts and precepts presented in John’s class motivates her appeal for personal instruction which subsequently leads to charges of sexual harrassment. Written a year after the notorious Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearings, Mamet’s dramatization was seen in its time as “an impassioned response” to that incident.
In act one, the pair is locked in an office where, depending on one’s point of view, an act of sexual harassment does or does not occur. In Act II, the antagonists, a young university professor and an undergraduate student, return to the scene of the alleged crime to try to settle their case without benefit of counsel, surrogates or, at times, common sense.
The final resolution of the intricacies of the plot, which raises the drama’s stakes still higher, is likely to provoke considerable discussion among viewers.
In his review for The Guardian, Michael Billington writes, “There can be no tougher or more unflinching play than Oleanna. The ending is, brilliantly, the last twist of the knife. The last line seems to me the perfect summation of the play. It’s dramatic ice.”
Without giving away the ending, sufiice it to say, nobody is perfect.
Both young actors have been involved in theater most of their lives and Oliver is studying theater at Southern Oregon University in Ashland which is noted for its dramatic productions.
Oleanna will be staged July 22 through 24 and 28 through the 31. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8:15 p.m. and Sunday at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets are general admission $12, with discounts available including $2 coupon in the Pier One ad in this paper. Advance tickets are available at The Bookstore and Etude Studios and reservations must be made by calling 235-7333.
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