; Fun! Fun! Vancouver!: Oleanna

Thursday, 8 May 2014


David Mamet's Oleanna is not a comedy. Yet the woman one seat away from me could not suppress her laughter through the entire performance. My guest and I were not quite sure what it was she was laughing about. I noticed other patrons looking over as well, wondering WHAT THE HELL, LADY?

To give her the benefit of the doubt, perhaps she was laughing because that is how she deals with uncomfortable situations? And Oleanna is one big giant uncomfortable situation put up there on stage for you to wade through. It was the first Mamet play I ever saw, so when I heard it was being put on by Bleeding Heart Theatre and Xua Xua Productions, I was very excited to see it again and to tell all my friends to go check it out.

So yes, Oleanna is not a comedy. It's a battle of wits, a power exchange, a he-said she-said war. The first production I saw left me confused and thoughtful, not quite sure who was right and who was wrong. This tale of a pompous professor seeking tenure vs a student and her accusations of sexual harassment can be an amazing story to watch unfold, especially if it's all done in just the right way, leaving the audience with enough grey area to wonder whose side they should be on.

Anthony F. Ingram plays the professor, but could've been a bit more assertive/cocky in his demeanour in the first scene. To me, he immediately came off as the sympathetic character that you want to root for. But perhaps that should make you wonder exactly why you are rooting for him? So he can continue on with his privileged life of being a rich straight white man? Then there's Susie Coodin as the student, who in the same first scene, came across as too aggressive and perhaps needed a bit more innocence or subtlety, to get the audience on her side? My friend who went with me told me afterwards, "I HATED HER."  (The character, not the actress.)  And perhaps if that's what the intention was, to paint her out as being the villain, then she did a phenomenal job.

Oleanna is always a contentious and controversial show to mount, leaving audiences questioning one another and themselves. I had some friends who saw it in Toronto who nearly broke up over the play, with one side hating the student so much that he would advocate violence against her, which shocked his partner and arguments ensued.

So put on your boxing gloves, come on down to the Havana Theatre from now until May 17 and witness this epic battle of words, power, and gender. And if there's one David Mamet play I would ever recommend, it would be this one. Don't miss it! Tickets for Oleanna can be bought online here.

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