Monday, February 9, 2015
Oleanna, a play by David Mamet at the South of Broadway Theater in Park Circle
This is the first blog I have written in a while, as my reviews were diverted due to a personal situation (meaning I broke my hand and had surgery). I'm happy to delve back into it and jump with feet first with a review of the play, "Oleanna", performed at the South of Broadway Theater Company in Park Circle. The venue, a quaint little spot, sat up to 50 people for this intimate display. The setting was small yet comfortable, and it can seat up to 90 for larger productions. To set the mood, imagine a small desk in the center with two chairs on either side with a doorway leading into (or out of) what turns out to be a professor's office. Two rows of seating surrounded 3/4's of the stage, and a small bar served cocktails throughout the evening. The director, JC Conway, sat quietly off to the side while observing as his cast of two delivered a cerebral and disconcerting power struggle between an apparent frail student and distracted professor who is awaiting tenure.
As the first of three scenes opened up, one becomes immediately aware of the professionalism and experience of Mark Gorman, current artistic director of SOBT and acting as John the Professor. His ability to remove himself from his surroundings and completely delve into the character offered us further insight into the Professor's obliviousness to what was forthcoming. Julie Hammond, acting as Carol - a frail student in both ego and mind, opens up with a tentative yet nerve wracking position of having to ask her seasoned instructor for assistance in understanding his class in order to improve her grade. As his focus is on the phone and less on her needs, he exudes a particular vulnerability teetering on the edge of his own Pass/Fail situation at home and with his career.
As with most of David Mamet's work, the transcript of the play falls into a lyrical prose that edges along the vivacity of nuance. You're immediately drawn into the scenes completely unaware of the darkness that is about to smack you in the face upon the next turn. Not completely understanding what you've just seen, the play introduces you to a horror that could potentially happen to any of us. You sit watching, disbelieving what is happening right before your eyes, and hope that this train wreck is about to stop. As the play progresses, Carol develops into a manipulative (or easily manipulated) character that involves herself into a power struggle with the Professor. John falls prey to his own devices, either accidentally or idiotically, and we are left in wonder as to whom the real predator in the play is.
The scenes are played out passionately and in morbid detail. The writing, of course, is excellent, and under Conway's direction perfectly produced. The set, simplistic and understated, was peppered with the intermittent ringing of a terrifyingly lonesome telephone that brought increasing tension with each call. At the end of the play, the entire audience, stunned, looked on in shock and horror as the final scene imploded.
Oleanna may be seen again tonight at 8pm and again on the 12th, 13th and 14th at 8pm. Tickets may be purchased for $20 at the South of Broadway Theater.