back, this time on Broadway at the Golden Theater. Written in 1992,
it is the playwright's answer of sorts to the Thomas
hearings, a short dynamo of a play about the interaction between
John, a well-meaning college professor, and Carol, a confused and
perhaps not-so-innocent female charge. Today, it becomes
more of a mesmerizing analysis of how language can be twisted,
interpreted and used to often self-delusional and deceitful ends.
Language as power and control, the ineluctable pull of words and
their ability to confuse, confound, and betray when wielded
carelessly or with malice.
Stiles and Bill Pullman deliver accomplished, nuanced interpretations.
Stiles, who starred in the Bourne action series and charmed
us in Mona Lisa Smile, brings her trademark stoic grace to
the stage, a strong contained fury of a presence. Pullman
whose remarkable range runs from stage presentations of Edward
Albee's Peter and Jerry and The Goat to the films Independence
Day, Sommersby, and A League of their Own, is a man
struggling to be at once fair and true to himself, a man whose facial
tics and self-questioning hint at a worrisome lack of confidence.
has always delighted in quick dialogue and repartee, 'Mamet speak'
that very particular use of language that is all about multiple
meanings, (mis)understandings, and deceit. Many of his plays
such as Glengarry Glen Ross, his dark drama about Chicago
real estate shenanigans and films (House of Games, The Spanish
Prisoner, Heist) center around the world of crooks and con
artists whose dealings are echoed in their use of language.
This shift of locale in Oleanna
the ivory tower of academe, an unusual choice then for Mamet.
as well the history of the play's title: Oleanna refers to
an 1853 Norwegian song written by Ditmar Meidell and sung in
English by Pete Seeger. A critique of utopian societies
established in the United States by a Norwegian immigrant by the
name of Ole Bull, the song proclaims:
to be in Oleanna
where I'd like to be
to be in Norway
bear the chains of slavery...
choice of title hinting that perhaps the idea of
language that is crystal clear is a mere
illusion…or is it that Mamet distrusts language itself, puts no
stock in the currency of his trade?
then a play about the shifting nature of power and language.
Mamet's talent lies in part in his wonderful ability to subtly
change our viewpoint by his ingenious use of dialogue. It's
a subtle shift that occurs: one minute one is squarely in one camp
and then suddenly doubt begins to chip away at one's
certainty...or does it?