David Mamet’s Oleanna is a play that has split many people over the years. What is it about exactly? Is it about power balance or sexual assault? Who is the villain? The sexist, pedantic teacher or the vengeful student? I had one view on the play. The person next to me probably viewed it completely opposite of me. This was the play’s intention.
Director Heather Benjamin notes the plays divisiveness in her director’s note. The play is essentially what one makes of it. It touches on the themes of power, sex, class, and in this particular production, there is even hints of race involved.
At the risk of provoking people myself and to not take away an audience member’s experience of seeing it, I won’t go into the details of these themes. Perisphere Theater is in its inaugural season and they have produced an edgy and intimate production of David Mamet’s Oleanna. It seems a perfect choice for the new little black box theatre, who’s mission states, “to make compelling theatre for the DC area.”
The play centers on two characters: John (Greg Thompson) and Carol (Nicole Ruthmarie). He is a professor at a university who is about to be awarded tenure. She is one of his students and failing his class. The play is separated into three acts that show meetings between the two. What starts off as a simple meeting between a professor and student, becomes a tug-of-war of power and control.
The two actors, Thompson and Ruthmarie, are perfect for this production. As John, Thompson is both sensitive and sleazy. As Carol, Ruthmarie is naive and knowing. Director Benjamin worked very well with these actors and dug beneath the surfaces of this piece.
Lighting Design was provided by Paul Callahan; Sound Design by Edward Moser, and Costume Coordinator, and Asia McCallum was the Costume Coordinator.
Oleanna was written to provoke people. It succeeds. Neither of the characters are very likable. One minute you’re on his side, the next on hers, then his, then hers, etc. This is Mamet playing mind games with his audience. Perisphere’s production succeeds because everyone involved knows that this is the play’s intention.
I imagine whoever goes to see it will walk away feeling….something, whether it’s anger, sympathy, confusion (maybe all three). Check out Oleanna at Perisphere Theatre.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.