Oleanna at the Hollywood Fight Club Review

Although it lacks the complexity and length of Glengarry Glen Ross, David Mamet's Oleanna is no less worth pondering and no less astonishing.  David Mamet's 1992 script receives a fresh Hollywood rendering from Director Del Matthew Bigtree at the Hollywood Fight Club Theater with Randy Robertson playing John, the college professor and Ruby Laurelle Staly playing his challenging pupil Carol.

"John" and "Carol" struggle

We first find John, in his office, under intense pressure with regards to his upcoming promotion for college tenure. His new house purchase also lay in the balance, his phone rings incessantly to update him, creating already what is to become a tense environment. We find Carol in his office initially confused by her poor grade from John and then confused with John's insufferable discourse on just about everything and, as they discuss her grade, becoming increasingly confused by his ranting.

They spend the opening, and rest of the play, interrupting and ignoring what the other is trying to say. Therein lies the impetus for the fracturing of their misguided, and at times awkward, relationship.

Oleanna is a remarkable 'read' into the relationship between student and teacher and for that matter relationship between men and women, in general.   It is definitely a better 'watch' as it desires to leave you unsure of who's side you're on until the last remaining moments and remind you of how tenuous the hold on a position of power is, as the tables can turn instantly. 

The play works on the stage because it concentrates conflict within a small theater to create a menacing, nerve-racked arena that you are forced to engage in. You will be enraged at both parties for being so stubborn and ignorant and yet you will praise both for sticking up for themselves and their lives. This production by Hollywood Fight Club Theater does a fine job of engaging the audience into the highly volatile relationship that is about to explode.  The play should be frightening to all in a workplace setting.

Randy Robertson and Ruby Laurelle Staley

Misunderstandings abound. It is difficult to see if the manipulations and transgressions by the characters were intentional, and for that matter, even if they were, is intentionality even relevant with regards to harassment?  In other words, do you have to be aware that you are harassing to be held accountable for it? The play, however, is as relevant today as it was when it premiered in May 1992, as one-and- all can debate the nuances of modern-day political correctness. 

We have all seen the 1970s- style video on workplace sexual harassment when the abuse is carried out so overtly that it leaves you astonished and remarking that there is no way possible that you could be accused of something like that.  The abuse in Mamet's play is carried out with such subtleness, over the course of a few scenes, that it is hard to see where it all went wrong. When seemingly the professor perceives that he has done no wrong, it all goes awry. 

John throws a paper airplane

It becomes more of a power struggle between a professor and student, at the end, than sexual harassment. She wanted to be understood and to understand and he just wanted to be tenured and thought he was helping. Everything the characters say is purposely incomplete and confusing.

John moves on Carol

The professor seems to have a very condescending opinion, open disgust, for his students and his abuse is more of the pompous-aloof sort. The student wants to him understand his transgression and, in the end, she is more purposeful and intentional in her manipulations and abuse. They both abuse their powers with equal dexterity and subsequently, both pay the consequences.

Aristotle wrote, 'It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."   Neither character, in this play, obviously is capable of that, because an educated and capable mind would have been able to sort its way out of this situation.

WHERE: Hollywood Fight Club Theater, 6767 W. Sunset Blvd., Suite #6, Hollywood, CA 90028. Free parking onsite.

WHEN: February 20 - March 27, 2007. Tuesdays at 8 p.m

RESERVATIONS: (323) 465-0800

WEBSITE: www.hollywoodfightclub.com

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