Rogues & Vagabonds

theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013…

Archive Review • OLEANNA • Garrick Theatre • 2004

Stiles in April 2007 at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City [Wikimedia]

Julia Stiles in April 2007 at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City [Wikimedia]

You know those one-man, rapid-fire question-and-answer sessions that Donald Rumsfeld inflicts on press briefings: “Is Bin Laden alive? We don’t think so. Will we find him? You bet!”? I was reminded of them at the Garrick Theatre revival of David Mamet’s Oleanna, when Carol, the newly politicized student, strung about six of the couplets together. I had thought it was an ugly twenty-first century phenomenon, but Rumsfeld’s fellow Chicagoan was doing it twelve years ago.

Maybe he even started it all: Oleanna has been a set text for American students for years. But is that as literature, or as a case study for citizenship classes?

To the British of 2004 Mamet can seem prophetic in showing a man broken by the misrepresentation of his innocent or venial words and actions: such cases make the papers every day, and still have the power to shock and anger. But in the States at least, they were nothing new even in 1992. For all the indignation aroused by the play’s early performances, art changed nothing: the tide of political correctness was not turned.

Aaron Eckhart plays a tweedy professor, not physically glamorous but to an insecure student unhappy with her grades, worldly and powerful. His own book is on the reading list. When she comes to see him for the first time Carol is drably dressed, a victim’s outfit. She tries to tell him that she comes from a different social class but he is so full of himself he does not allow her to finish. He seems to be trying to impress her, maybe more than that, with his fancy talk, his paradoxes, his risqué jokes, and his personal touch; yet, although Carol can rarely get a word in, and when she does it is to say that she feels stupid, there are intimations that she might be his superior.

The early dialogue seems artificial, with Carol’s sentences repeatedly truncated to a couple of words by John’s interruptions. But there is an obvious counterpoint with their second meeting, where Carol begins to take control. She has made a formal complaint against him: the full set of those taboo “isms”, plus some sexual harassment. We see what she means — we all speak that language these days — but come on!

John’s efforts to make it better just make it worse, and “harassment” turns to “attempted rape”. The students demand control of the content of the course; his prospects recede; he loses his dream house. When, in parting, she offers the casual advice: “Don’t call your wife ‘Baby'”, real violence is his only available response.

No spectator shouted, “Kill the bitch” this time: a thoughtful silence greeted this very powerful scene. Perhaps we have changed: it is hard not to feel sympathy for the more likeable John, but for some things there is no excuse.

Eckhart is utterly convincing as the professor, disintegrating from the machismo of a Mamet executive, in his early telephone calls, to a whining supplicant hiding behind his desk, before finally recovering some dignity. Julia Stiles shows the complexity of the principled, devious, cold fish Carol, simultaneously vulnerable and steely. Her lines often seem mannered, and she struggles to overcome this. I was wondering who would play ‘Oleanna’, but it turns out the title refers to a folk song where Oleanna is a place of freedom from slavery. Both characters have their shackles.

The professor sees it as his first responsibility to “haze” — to provoke — his students, and succeeds all too well. He condemns the trivia of higher education: the obsession with grades, for example, and might be talking about our own troubled universities.

The director Lindsay Posner has brought great subtlety out of an awkward script, bare of stage directions, to create a gripping and thought-provoking production.

Mark Campbell © 2004

Originally published on R&V on 01-05-04

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Information

This entry was posted on 06/15/2016 by in Reviews, Theatre and tagged , , , , , .
The poor side of life

EXPOSING CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY.EXPOSING THE GOVERNMENTS WAR AGAINST THE POOR.FIGHTING FOR BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS. SANCTIONS KILL.

For the Love of Art

Create, Explore, and Discover, Every Day.

Politics and Insights

Public interest issues, policy, equality, human rights, social science

IWtheatre

Supporting the rich amateur theatre scene on the Isle of Wight

Robin Hoskyns Nature Photography - Blog

Images and stories of nature, science and conservation.

Sarah Ditum

Writing, etc.

The Müscleheaded Blog

"Nothing Exceeds Like Superfluous Jejunity "

Jots from a Small Apt.

Largely @ Liberty

Rethinking Life

Art and the philosophy of life

Croatia, the War, and the Future

Ina Vukic - Croatia: people, politics, history, economy, transition from communism to democracy

lynz real cooking

lynz real life

Pride's Purge

an irreverent look at UK politics

Pride's Purge

an irreverent look at UK politics

Tropical Affair

Observations of the illusion through the eyes of wonder...

barneyhoskyns.com

The home of writer Barney Hoskyns' books, poems, photos and more.

Smorgasbord - Variety is the spice of life

Blog magazine for lovers of health, food, books, music, humour and life in general

I didn't have my glasses on....

A trip through life with fingers crossed and eternal optimism.

Left Handed Lottie

Drawing and painting on an ipad

Atelier 88

More than just rooms

The Sleeping Hare

Art by Lottie Nevin

Pacific Paratrooper

This WordPress.com site is Pacific War era information

beetleypete

The musings of a Londoner, now living in Norfolk

Vegan Books For Children

books from Little Chicken, Honestly Books and Violet's Vegan Comics

Catherine Meyrick

Historical Fiction with a touch of Romance

Silver Screenings

an irreverent blog of old movies

My Life as an Artist (2)

Smile! You’re at the best WordPress.com site ever

Violet's Vegan Comics

Virtual Vegan Comics for Children

Two Rooms Plus Utilities

Written from the heart, this is the unadulterated truth of live with multiple chronic illnesses and being housebound. My life open for you to follow. Please join me

kickingthecat

How current policy is little more than kicking the cat....

Matt's History Blog

Hopefully interesting snippets and thoughts

David Hencke

Westminster and Whitehall news investigations

Notes from the U.K.

Exploring the spidery corners of a culture and the weird stuff that tourist brochures ignore.

BRIDGET WHELAN writer

August is archive month. Posts from the past

P.A. Moed

Creative Exploration in Words and Pictures

creartfuldodger

collage/mixed media artist

My Dad Is A Goldfish

Caring for a demented dad

Scope's Blog

Scope exists to make this country a place where disabled people have the same opportunities as everyone else. Until then, we'll be here.

Art Farm of a Country Woman

Painting My World with My Heart

e-Tinkerbell

Literature, books , sport and whatever intrigues me

AT A GENTLE PACE - Bridget Whelan's lifestyle travel blog

for people who would try anything except whitewater rafting (probably)

reviewdonkey

My personal opinions about.......stuff (as if you care!)

A Teacher's Reflections

Thirty Years of Wonder

The Theatre Guild Newsletter

Celebrating 98 years on Broadway!

Pen and Pension

Immerse yourself in Georgian and Regency England

Scleroderma Guy

It's Not A Life Sentence. It's A Life. Sentence

%d bloggers like this: