Oleanna – the Reviews. Premiere – Mamet’s Back Bay Theatre Company in Cambridge, Mass, in May 1992. Taken from The David Mamet Society ( an international organisation of scholars, students and fans):
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Notably, this performance used the original ending – as described in a note later director Harold Pinter wrote to Mamet:
me the perfect summation of the
play. It's dramatic ice.
Oleanna ... is an impassioned response to the Thomas hearings. As if ripped right from the typewriter, it could not be more direct in its technique or more incendiary in its ambitions. In Act I, Mr. Mamet locks one man and one woman in an office where, depending on one's point of view, an act of sexual harassment does or does not occur. In Act II, the antagonists ... return to the scene of the alleged crime to try to settle their case without benefit of counsel, surrogates or, at times, common sense. The result? During the [interval] the audience seemed to be squirming and hyperventilating en masse, so nervous was the laughter and the low rumble of chatter that wafted through the house. The ensuing denouement, which raised the drama's stakes still higher, does nothing to alter the impression that "Oleanna" is likely to provoke more arguments than any play this year
It is ideal material for Pinter...: always
disturbing, frequently menacing, but only at
the end breaking into violence. Pinter’s
control is immaculate.”
Billington: "The danger with the play is that it can easily seem a partial, loaded, one-sided attack on the student and on female solidarity in general. But Pinter's production scrupulously avoids that trap by giving equal weight to both sides of the argument. It is clear from his staging that the professor not only dominates the student intellectually but it physically drawn to her. But it is equally clear, from the way she sits astride his desk in the second act that she is terrifyingly conscious of her new-found authority. By restoring Mamet's original ending, in which the professor is forced to confess his failings, Pinter also brings out the pain and tragedy of the situation."
Pinter: "The first night when David beat [Lia] up, the men in the audience really gave her a rough time, and cheered. She wasn't expecting it [...] I had to say to her, it's not you. The only thing you can do is stand up for yourself and say I'm above all this, as the character does. She's indomitable, whether you like her or not. She can say, you’ve beaten me up, I'm hurt, but nevertheless you're going to make this statement. When that happens in our last 5 min, the audience is absolutely silent. Lia has really triumphed too. It's not very pleasant being detested on stage, to find the audience antagonsitic.”
Broadway theatre all worked up over
its portrait of . . . sexual harassment?
Or was it self righteous Political
I recall wondering after the Court's premiere, starring Lia Williams and David Suchet, why anyone would side with Mamet's monstrous militant feminist, Carol, who warps everything her tutor, John, says. In Lindsay Posner's new production, the play feels rather more balanced in its sympathies. Eckhart's John being young and hunky ups the sexual tension during the first tête-à-tête in his office as he tries to bond with his bewildered, failing pupil by talking informally. At the same time, he manages to be infuriating, bullishly interrupting Stiles's Carol with
an eagerness to instruct that speaks
volumes about his hypocritical
presumption of superiority.
The set's narrowing space hints at serious menace. Stiles's mix of tearful vulnerability and increasingly articulate rage ensures this is a moral problem play that's genuinely debatable. Her outraged tone is slightly monotonous, and the production's intensity is undermined by 2 intervals. But the conflict is viscerally shocking, and Oleanna has, arguably, become more relevant over the past decade as PC rules have spread through British