Oleanna, by David Mamet

My Copy: 9780679745365 (image from bn.com)

I’ve read Oleanna twice (being it’s so short) and I’m still not sure how I feel about this play. The dialogue is full of clipped speech, pauses, and the like, very suitable for the stage, but when you get imagining it, it’s surprising how fast things change.

I think Oleanna is meant to lull you into a false sense of security, and then you’re thrown headlong into a change the way the professor is about the way his student, Carol, is behaving. The basic gist is a distracted professor (the phone won’t stop ringing as his wife is trying to get a house deal closed and get him there to help her out) and Carol, who is having trouble with her grades in his class. She can’t understand him and what he’s talking about most of the time. As it goes on, he tries to find a way to help her out.

That’s the basic gist of Act 1; Act 1 takes up half the play, and then Act 2 and 3 make it hurtle toward the end. I’m not totally sure what all was going on (and I’m sure watching it on the stage would be intensely helpful), but at the same time, that helps the main themes.

It’s clear the play’s emphasizing miscommunication issues, political correctness, and power or sexual harassment issues.

Frankly, the fact that these two characters aren’t really very likable is probably what sells the point so spectacularly. They clash as the play goes on, and you wonder what’s going to happen.

I picked this up because eventually I’ll be doing David Mamet’s masterclass and I was wondering how different this play would be.

I think it’s worth a shot if you’re one to read plays but haven’t had a chance yet. Seeing it on the stage would probably be far better, however, or at least your eyes could fill in the gaps left by the words and actions on the page.

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