Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Oleanna"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"


entire contents copyright 2011 by Tony Annicone

"Oleanna"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

Rhode Island College Theatre's current show is "Oleanna", a two character play by David Mamet. It is about the 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 accorded tenure. The play's title, taken from a folk song, refers to a 19th-century escapist vision of utopia. Mamet constructs his story around a series of incidents that could be viewed as either completely innocent or not,who is persecuting whom? Dr. Jamie Taylor casts two strong performers in these two roles and they deliver stunning performances leading to a spontaneous standing ovation at the end of the show..

Mamet wrote this show shortly after Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill hearings and is a strong response to the injustice he felt from them. In Mamet's play, at the first meeting, Carol approaches the professor for help. She's failing his course. Instead of giving her conventional advice, the professor explains to Carol his entire philosophy of education. She is offended by some of what he says, and they argue, but their eventual parting seems to be amicable. The second meeting, however reveals that Carol has filed a protest against the professor, accusing him of sexual harassment. Her charges are accurate in fact, but neither intent nor context are considered. Bolstered by a group of nameless, faceless, supporters, Carol is no longer the nervous, uncertain girl. And, as her self-assurance waxes, the professor's wanes. The third meeting, the one the court officers advised against, climaxes violently leaving John and Carol both physically and emotionally devastated. The show explores the destructiveness of miscommunication and excessive political correctness. Communication, or the lack thereof, is significant in this intense drama. Through constant interruptions and dialogue cut-offs, we find that these two characters are simply not listening to one another, which often leads to the characters remarking:"I don't understand." The act of ''not listening'' to each other through a barrage of verbal interruptions leads to the misinterpretation of words and actions and ultimately, the complete breakdown of communication between the professor and the student. At the very end of the play Mamet uses language as a tool and a weapon, and leaves it up to the audience to assess how the protagonists use it. Kevin Killavey plays John while Charlene Pratt plays Carol. They handle the transition from powerful to weak and vice versa, delivering dynamic portrayals as these complex characters. Kevin's character seems to age during the course of the show while Charlene's character grows prettier and more self assured. So for a powerhouse show, be sure to catch "Oleanna" at Rhode Island College.

"Oleanna" (16 - 20 February)
RHODE ISLAND COLLEGE
@ Helen Forman Theatre, 600 Mount Pleasant Avenue, PROVIDENCE RI
1 (401)456-8144

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide

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