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Old 11th Nov 2008, 11:41   #1
ono no komachi
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Default Guy Masterson's production of Oleanna by David Mamet (POSSIBLE SPOILERS)

This was a rather bewildering experience. David Mamet's play concerns a young woman, Carol, who is a university student who visits her lecturer, John, for help as she will otherwise fail her course. She pleads for his help and is frustrated (as is the audience) by his apparent refusal to give layman's explanations for things he has said in his lectures, or written in his book, which appears to be a set text. He is also constantly distracted by the purchase of a new house, based upon a promotion he believes to be a formality.

Eventually Carol breaks down into histrionics, whereupon John attempts to placate her, one hand holding hers, his other arm around her shoulder, his head touching hers.

We later learn that Carol has made a complaint against John which is likely to lead to the loss of the promotion. They have discussions in which it becomes clear that the balance of power has shifted; she has become more confident and articulate, and now it is he who is frustrated by his inability to communicate his lack of malicious intent in his earlier actions. This frustration results in a physical confrontation at the end of the scene, which takes place partially obscured by furniture from the audience's viewpoint.

Towards the end of the play the balance of power is completely reversed, with Carol (having lodged a claim of attempted rape) seemingly in complete command of the situation, and John pleading inarticulately for her to relent. She presents a list of texts which she and her 'group' want removed from the university course, including of course John's own book. He profanely and violently orders her out of his office, and the situation escalates to a fairly shocking conclusion.

It seemed very much to me to be a play of intellectual ideas and principles - there's very little to engage with emotionally, but a great deal to think about. The nature of perception and communication, the power relationship between teacher and student, the fact that an increasing inability to argue a case intellectually accompanies an escalation in physical violence.

The performances of the two actors in this production (Guy Masterson and Joanna Hartstone) were exemplary, highly convincing and commanding of the audience's attention. The tension created was highly evident in the noise in the audience (almost like a collective release of breath) whenever the stage darkened between scenes. Indeed, the audience reaction became a significant part of the whole experience for me. There were large groups from a local boys' school (ages probably 12 - 16) who 'oo-ed' childishly whenever there was an expletive in the script (no more than 3 or 4 times during the whole performance) and I was shocked when this group applauded and cheered when the male character finally resorted to striking his student. (From a little Internets research this morning I see this is a not uncommon reaction, which troubles me somewhat.)

One of our group seemed to find the whole thing a fairly negative experience. I said I thought it had been thought-provoking and, at times, simply provoking. But it held my interest throughout and made me think hard about my perceptions, which I think is a fair achievement for a two-character play. Good stuff.

(Gutted to find out that appearing at the tiny lecture-theatre-like Blake Theatre in Monmouth where we saw this, later this week is Eddie Izzard doing a preview of his London show. All sold out, of course.)
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Old 11th Nov 2008, 12:46   #2
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Default Re: Guy Masterson's production of Oleanna by David Mamet (POSSIBLE SPOILERS)

It sounds very powerful, ono. I've heard good reviews of it so it is unfortunate that it's not touring near us, as far as I'm aware. The whole "balance of power, plus inarticulacy" thing is one which is exercising my mind at the moment, so it would be fascinating to see.
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Old 11th Nov 2008, 12:54   #3
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Default Re: Guy Masterson's production of Oleanna by David Mamet (POSSIBLE SPOILERS)

It was pretty intense. Of course we got home to face the question: 'Did you enjoy it?' It was difficult to answer in the affirmative, yet I definitely found it impressive and provocative. If it ever does end up round your way, I'd recommend it.
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