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David Mamet's "Oleanna" at the Golden Theatre
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David Mamet's "Oleanna" at the Golden Theatre

- Backstage with the Playwrights

Jeffrey Finn, Arlene Scanlan, Jed Bernstein,
Ken Davenport, Carla Emil, ERGO Entertainment,
Harbor Entertainment, Elie Hirschfeld, Rachel Hirschfeld,
HOP Theatricals, Brian Fenty/Martha H. Jones,
Center Theatre Group

Bill Pullman and Julia Stiles

By David Mamet
(David Mamet Bio)

Directed by Doug Hughes

At the
Golden Theatre
252 West 45th Street

Scenic Design: Neil Patel
Costume Design: Catherine Zuber
Lighting Design: Donald Holder
Fight Director: Rick Sordelet
Production Stage Manager: Charles Means
Marketing Services: B&B Marketing
Production Management: Juniper Street Productions
Press Representative: The Publicity Office
General Management: Alan Wasser-Alan Williams,
Mark Shacket

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
October 14, 2009

Oleanna is my least favorite of the recent productions by the esteemed David Mamet, and Iíd rather sit through a day of back-to-back Speed-the-Plows, Novembers, and Glengarry Glen Rossí than see ten more minutes of Oleanna. Doug Hughes has directed this work, with its inherent potential for psychologically riveting dialogue and thoughtful pondering over character intent; he wraps Oleanna in a coarse shrillness, broken only by too many pregnant pauses, no pun intended; this two character, one-act drama concerns sex harassment between a male college professor and his female student. I wish Iíd seen the original 1992 production with the original cast, directed by Mr. Mamet, as Bill Pullman and Julia Stiles handled their roles with grating and irritating performances. Neither character was magnetic, although I was rooting for John (Mr. Pullman), over Carol (Ms. Stiles). In fact, toward the end of the 70 or so minute production, I was honestly hoping for the final violent act, that thankfully stopped Ms. Stilesí wound up, excruciating diatribe.

John is about to receive tenure in the hallowed walls of an imposing university, and heís buying a new house for his family as part of this life-enhancing moment. His phone rings incessantly, as he squabbles over the mortgage and other logistical details, seemingly so urgent at the time. Also in his office is a lovely, young blonde student, Carol, who says she does not understand the courseís content, that John is incomprehensible as a professor. John insults Carol, then Carol cries, then John offers to tutor Carol, the phone keeps ringing, the shades open and close, and the sunlight on the hallowed university buildings, fleetingly seen through the windows, shifts, as the hours pass by. Soon we are aware that the playís dialogue draws two lines of belief, Johnís and Carolís. Is Carol set up by a feminist group to deny John tenure, on charges of sex harassment? Did John touch her? Shove her? Were they ever alone intimately? Did we blink? Mamet has infused the dialogue with gripping ambiguities, but tonight I was repulsed by the characters, rather than pulled into the puzzle. There was too much space between the words and the audience. We never fused into this fight.

Neil Patelís venetian blinds and outdoor scene were well conceived, and, frankly, the time-setting breaks, with the buzzing blinds lifting and lowering, were a welcome respite from the blistering banter that pushed instead of pulled. Donald Holderís lighting, as well, was critical to the action and expertly designed. After tonightís production, a lively talk-back was led by Benjamin Brafman, a criminal defense attorney, known for his television guest appearances in high profile cases. As it happens, the talk-back was more absorbing than the play.

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For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at