The Little Theatre of Fall River's winter Firebarn production is "Oleanna" by David Mamet. The show is described as a piece of "theater ice'' by playwright, Harold Pinter. "Oleanna" is seen as an impassioned response to the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court hearings in the early 1990's. The audience may remember the accusation by a young female law clerk in Thomas' office, Anita Hill, who claimed Thomas sexually harassed her. It proved a riveting bit of television for several weeks, but in the end, Thomas won his seat on the Court, albeit under a shadow. "Oleanna" explores some of these timely themes, turning them into riveting drama. 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 nineteenth century escapist vision of utopia. Mamet constructs his story around a series of incidents that can be viewed as completely innocent or not, who is persecuting whom? Director Linda Monchik cast two strong performers in these two roles and they deliver stunning performances.
Linda utilizes every inch of the set in her terrific blocking, keeping the audience's attention from start to finish. In Mamet's play, Carol approaches the professor for help at the first meeting because she is failing his course. The professor explains his whole philosophy of education instead of giving her conventional advice. She is offended by what he says and they argue but their parting appears to be amicable. However the second meeting 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 content are considered. Carol is no longer the nervous, uncertain girl, having been bolstered by a group of nameless, faceless supporters. As her self assurance grows, his seems to dwindle. The third meeting is the one the court officers advised against. This meeting climaxes violently leaving Carol and John both physically and emotionally devastated. The show examines the destructiveness of miscommunication and excessive political correctness. Communication, or the lack thereof, is significant in this intense drama. The act of "not listening" to each other through a barrage of verbal interruptions leads to the misinterpretation of words and actions. It ultimately leads to 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, leaving it up to the audience to assess how the protagonists use it. The marvelous performers are Robert Duquette as John and Rachael Tondreault as Carol. They handle the transition from powerful to weak and vice versa, delivering dynamic portrayals as these complex characters. So for a powerful dramatic show, be sure to catch "Oleanna" at Little Theatre of Fall River.