Oleanna | The New Theatre
Star Rating: 3.5/5
By: David Mamet
The writing's on the wall (literally - it's all over the set) in Company D's gamey mounting of David Mamet's Oleanna. Twenty years after it was first staged it still takes a bite out of political correctness gone wrong and the failings of the teacher/student relationship. But in this clear cut production from director Ruth Calder-Potts, the ambiguity of meaning plays a back seat to the power of language, where the condescending words spoken by David Scott's professor are calamitously twisted by Sinead O'Riordan's student so that we are moved to hate both characters rather than be concerned over their actions.
Carol (O'Riordan) is flunking. She's been summoned to John's (Scott) office to ask for mercy. She just doesn't understand. He, meanwhile, is on a roll. He's been offered tenure and tenancy in his dream house, facts he flaunts without feeling in front of his struggling student. By exploiting a system he despises he has ascended the ladder. He sees himself in the chip on Carol's shoulder and decides to cast her a lifeline. Which she quickly wraps around his professional neck.
This deliciously wordy drama is a feast of ideas - from John's idealistic flouting of the system to Carol's manipulation of it, Mamet's derision of both results in a vicious verbal sparring that moves one to the edge of their seat and often their reason. Into the pot he pisses thoughts of sex, class and intergenerational contempt before rubbing our noses in it.
The problem with Company D's production is with how black and white it shade's the arguments. Mamet has stacked the deck in a way that Carol's actions can only be viewed as cruel and excessive. He has a family; she has a 'group', unnamed and corrupt. O'Riordan's performance is unyielding yet we never get a feeling for what kind of person Carol might be beyond her arguments. Her face is painted in contempt from the moment she enters, her deliberate delivery emphasising her point but giving little in terms of character.
John is a man in love with his own voice, his constant interruptions as ill timed and irritating as his phone that goes off at the most inopportune moments. But as tension mounts both on and off stage Scott's voice stays at one level so that slight irritations and shock allegations carry the same weight. While he is clearly the wronged man in this instance, the dubiety that should hang over his character is not present in the first initial scene where he falls upon the sword so that when Carol makes further allegations as to his behavior off stage we doubt whether she is telling the truth, even when he appears to concur.
This is still a cracking production, well paced and staged by Potts so that it never feels didactic or expositional. Had she taken a closer look at the people beneath the points however, the play as a whole would have felt less reactionary.
By Caomhan Keane
Story by EI Team | 09:00 | Tuesday 15th May 2012 | Theatre
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