David Mamet’s Oleanna is a finely-balanced expose of the impact of intellectualism out of control. Behind the cool façade of academic arguments the lives of the two characters are unraveling.
The University of Adelaide Theatre Guild has ultimately conveyed the play’s power-packed meaning, but has failed to maintain the even balance so needed in this two-hander.
The play explores gender politics in a university as a professor meets afterhours with his student. While the set, by Ole Wiebkin, clearly depicts an academic’s room, it is difficult to convey the confined and therefore rather ominous undertones of this meeting.
With countless phone interruptions professor John (Brant Eustice) and student Carol (Rachael Grauwelman-Smith) meet to discuss course progress.
Eustice is suitably pompous as he pontificates his theories, but his genuine affection for the teaching profession and his students fails to set up any sympathy for his student’s consequent actions. In short, Eustice is too likable and his subconscious superiority far too forgivable.
This is also compounded by Grauwelman-Smith’s performance of Carol as a whiny, annoying and ultimately infuriatingly supercilious human-being. Her feminist theories fall somewhat flat as her character is so unpalatable.
The see-sawing arguments as each justifies their actions and reactions are fascinating and thought-provoking, but lose some of their impact as sympathies lie very early on with one side of the argument.
Nevertheless Oleanna, in the hands of director Ben McCann, is sure to get a reaction.
Despite its flaws his version of Oleanna delivers an academic appraisal of sexual harassment which provokes a strong emotional reaction. This is not black and white but rather holds many shades of grey and is likely to stimulate many a further discussion and disagreement.
University of Adelaide Theatre Guild
by David Mamet
Directed by Ben McCann
Venue: The Little Theatre
Dates/Times: Sat 17, Tues-20-24 & 27-31 Oct at 7.30pm