Wednesday, October 07, 2009


Photo: Craig Schwartz

The particulars of the Mamet's sexual harassment plot might seem a little less realistic now than they did in 1992, before public policy on such cases had matured somewhat. But in my opinion, Oleanna was never meant to be entirely time-topical, despite its then straight-from-the-headlines theme. Its stychomythic, stream-of-consciousness dialogue, which at times reduces Bill Pullman's John to chirps and groans, gives it a slightly hallucinogenic feel, and the mysterious "group" – the uncertainty about what's really going on behind Carol's (Julia Stiles) complaints – reminds me more of a Margaret Atwood dystopia than a legal drama. And that's leaving aside the deep questions raised by the play about the purpose and value of academia. The sharp performances in this production bring out the Kafkaesque universality of the story. Whether in a democracy or a dictatorship, we're often at the mercy of forces we don't understand and over which we have no control. I imagined Oleanna might seem dated in 2009. Several hundred audience members last night proved otherwise. Some of them may have been drawn by the Hollywood star power of the cast, but they left with much to think about. The show is in previews; it opens Oct. 11.

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