By David Mamet
Wednesday 3rd to Saturday 6th July 2013
Our first production at Wandsworth Museum.
Read a review of Oleanna on the Sardines website
David Mamet’s masterpiece “Oleanna” was first performed in New York in 1992, and has since been made into a film and become established as a modern classic.
John, a college professor awaiting confirmation of his tenure, is suddenly accused of sexual harassment by his student Carol. The play depicts the power struggle between the two of them as their dispute becomes more and more bitter, with more and more at stake.
The premiere of the play provoked arguments and even fights in the Orpheum theatre foyer. It’s a scathing satire on political correctness, but also an attack on casual sexism. It challenges the audience to take sides, then challenges the sides the audience takes. It’s the most controversial, thought-provoking and powerful piece of drama from the foremost living American dramatist.
New Stagers and Wandsworth Museum are proud to be working in this cultural partnership to bring this extraordinary work of theatre to the community.
David Mamet’s 2009 play ‘Race’, showing at the Hampstead Theatre, has been criticised by liberals for its stance on race. It’s been praised by others, including the Sunday Times, for exactly the same thing.
This same conflict of opinion greeted ‘Oleanna’ on its premiere back in 1992, when political correctness began to pervade educational life in America, and sweep the nation shortly thereafter, taking federal judges and even the President in its wake. Mamet forces the audience to take a view, take a stance on a difficult subject which people don’t like to face. Is John, the teacher accused of sexual harassment, an unreconstructed sexist who enjoys the power he has over his female students, or is he just lacking in self-awareness? Is Carol, who clearly has emotional issues of her own, justified in her case, or is she a certifiable fruitcake? Audiences argued, and occasionally fought, over these questions at the premiere, and the play achieved notoriety as a result.
What most people were agreed on at the time was the play was too unsubtle, too polarising, too unrealistic. Time’s proven them wrong on all three points.
Norman Mailer famously said of ‘American Psycho’, another masterpiece accused of blatant misogyny, that it forces you to look at something unspeakable and hardly anyone does that anymore. ‘Oleanna’ does the same thing. It makes you have an opinion and then question it at the same time.
In doing so it reveals its greatness and its place in literary tradition. F Scott Fitzgerald said that genius lies in being able to hold two opposing thoughts simultaneously. Keats in his letters famously spoke of the concept of ‘negative capability’, the capacity for doubt as opposed to certainty. ‘Oleanna’ will have you thinking, doubting and arguing for a long time after you’ve seen it.