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Thursday, 26 January 2012 12:07

HotCity's 'Oleanna' is tense, thought provoking

Written by Robert Mitchell
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The Details

  • Director: Annamaria Pileggi
  • Dates: January 18 - February 4, 2012

In "Oleanna", playwright David Mamet takes on a lot of issues: the state of academia, the pitfalls of bleeding heart liberals, the inequality of the sexes, the perils of communication breakdown, and perhaps most importantly the power of personal perception.

Opposing factions on either side of these arguments – especially when ideas are communicated as badly (or not at all) as in "Oleanna" – are most likely, especially when confronted with beliefs or concepts conflicting with their own, to helplessly cry out “I don’t understand!”. This war cry is at the heart of "Oleanna" at HotCity Theatre.

Student Carol shows up at the office door of University Professor John during “office hours” (that nebulous time that when I taught college I, admittedly, referred to as my “break”), because she has a problem – her failing grades in this class ( a class that she doesn’t “understand”) jeopardizes her academic standing (which in the eyes of a young student not only affects their future, but quite possibly their present in the form of room, board and scholarships). John has written the book – literally – on this class, and after pontificating profusely on his subject, he realizes (as do we) why carol isn’t learning. He hasn’t made the effort to communicate with his students simply and personally. In an effort to rectify that, he calms the young lady, gently touching her shoulder and offers to start the class over from scratch. He offers to give her an “A” and then grade backwards (a relatively commonly way used to gauge how well a student is working and understanding). The caveat is that she come back to his office for private tutoring, so that she can catch up.

But these apparent kindnesses are misconstrued by the young girl – they are seen as elitist, sexist and borderline sexually harassing (and from her viewpoint, she may be right. Or not.). The communication brought about by this miscommunication threatens to tear one or both of their lives apart – but of course, I’m not going to spoil the ending here.

John Pierson as John masterfully crafts a compelling (and mostly sympathetic) character. While we’re annoyed that he’s smart enough to have all the answers, and pompous enough to believe he IS the answer, we also see that he compassionate enough to care about wanting to reach his student. Pierson is one of the only actors in town whose characters can be a little prickly and selfish and self-aggrandizing, and still have us (mostly) on his side – no small feat.

Rachel Fenton, as Carol, once again sheds the skin of her earlier sexpot roles to give us a full, complex character, as the student afraid both of being stupid, and appearing to be stupid. Her frustration with this situation is palpable every second of this 90 minute show, but when her character is backed by both the administration and a shadow group of campus activists, she grows in stature and ferocity – with the utmost conviction that she is {that most dangerous of all beliefs) “right”. She is quickly becoming one of my – and St. Louis’ – favorite young actresses.

Direction by Annamaria Pileggi is clear and taut; in a very wordy play, she carefully conducts the preciously few moments when each character doubts their own convictions, as well as precisely orchestrating the build to the stunning final crescendo.

The technical aspects of the show are well executed; set by Lex Von Blommestein, lights by Mark Wilson, costumes by Scott Breihan and props by Meg Brinkley aptly support the world of academia, and the efforts of Pileggi and her cast, with equal care.

For an evening of tight, tense, thought-provokig theater that will stick with you for more than a minute, consider "Oleanna" at HotCity Theater. "Oleanna" continues at The Krantzberg through February 4th. For tickets go to their website, or call (314) 289-4063.

Additional Info

  • Director: Annamaria Pileggi
  • Dates: January 18 - February 4, 2012

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