November 14, 2009

Oleanna

Oleanna is one intense and bewildering play. The drama unfolds in a university office where powwows on concepts presented in class eventually leads to accusations of sexual harassment. It is very wordy but David Mamet's heavy language is fascinating to hear. It was interesting to see how seemingly ordinary conversations can very quickly stray into dangerous ground. I never saw what was coming next, and the plot builds to a mystifying climax. Much has been said about audience sympathies shifting between the two characters, but I never really wavered. The denouement left me confounded, unsure of what I just saw and what really happened. That's why it took me this long to write this.
Bill Pullman's (John) tense, hunched shoulders say it all. On the verge of getting tenure AND buying a house, he is a bundle of nervous energy on stage as he juggles cellphone conversations and discussions with his student. He brings a unique 'everyman' charm to the tightly-wound character.
I'm conflicted about Julia Stiles' Carol. Based on what I've read about her and interviews I've seen her in, Ms. Stiles is such an intelligent person that it was hard to believe she was a student asking for a passing grade. Much less to get involved with an unseen "group" of presumably female students who press her to file charges against the professor . She does show a vulnerable side when she was about to reveal a personal secret to the teacher but gets interrupted by the infernal cellphone. We never really know what motivates her later actions.


If you're going to see it, it's best to see it with someone else for a post-viewing analysis. A debate about male-female, professor-student power struggles, political correctness and feminism is definitely in order after watching Oleanna.

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