by Beverly Creasey
Ill say one thing for David Mamet: Boy, does he write great roles for men (American Buffalo is one of my favorite plays), but he cannot write for women. To Mamet, all women are scheming, vindictive harridans --- and Oleanna currently playing at the Vokes Theater, is Mamet at his meanest. This play is a daring choice for a theater more at home with musical comedy, because Oleanna was written with one purpose only: to strike out at women, as payback for the womens movement. Rush Limbaugh calls female activists Feminazis and Mamet has created the quintessential Feminazi in the character of Carol --- who gets hers when she pushes a professor to the end of his rope.
But surprise, surprise: Director Milton Coykendall throws a monkeywrench into Mamets nefarious little plot by giving Carol grounds for her actions --- something Im sure would give Mr. Mamet apoplexy, because it undercuts the big payoff. Mamet wants the audience to condone the professors outrage, and Coykendall short-circuits that dramatic manipulation.
Audiences usually applaud when the professor strikes back at the monster who has ruined his life, but the Vokes production has no monsters, so the play Mr. Mamet intended never jells --- which suits me just fine! The point of the play, after all, is to manipulate an audience into hating women as much as Mamet does; so by giving Carol even the slightest justification for what she does to this man, Coykendall robs Mamet of his macho gratification. I was shocked when I first saw this play that Mamet could whip an audience so easily into a mob mentality --- so bless the folks at Vokes for going another route.
Laura Yosowitz gives Carol enough vulnerability and humanity (right through to the end of the play) so we are able to see how she could interpret the professors hug as sexual --- and the play hinges on that hug being devoid of sexual content. Jason Taylor makes the professor pompous, and yet naive enough to reveal personal information --- information which can be used against him --- in an attempt to relate to his student on her level. Taylor makes us believe hes just a mild-mannered windbag, not a violent man, despite his actions (not an easy task!). And Yosowitz manages to elicit sympathy from the audience --- something Mamet would despise.
Vokes has done what countless women have yearned to do --- especially the Womens Theater Company down in N.Y., who have been banned by Mr. Mamet from performing his Goldberg Street this March: They take the sting out of Oleanna and thwart Mr. Macho.