2009 Broadway Revival of David Mamet's play, Oleanna.
This was the official site for the 2009 Broadway revival of David Mamet's play, Oleanna, staring Bill Pullman and Julia Stiles.
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Oleanna on Broadway - Starring Bill Pullman and Julia Stiles
OLEANNA is Pulitzer Prize winner DAVID MAMET's most controversial drama. This gripping new production, directed by Tony winner DOUG HUGHES, had Los Angeles audiences gasping and critics raving. Now this landmark play comes to Broadway - for the first time ever - with the crackle and force of wildfire.
OLEANNA has electrifying dialogue, blazing emotion and an ending that will leave you talking for weeks. In this riveting drama, a college professor and his female student become embroiled in a war of words that takes a dangerous turn. As their serene campus transforms into a battleground for justice, Mamet's explosive masterpiece dares you to take a side . . . if you can.
Why is it called OLEANNA?
David Mamet uses several allusions in his play Oleanna, the biggest of which is the title. Oleanna makes reference to a utopian community founded in New Norway by a man named Ole Bull. However, the colony was located in a densely-forested part of Pennsylvania, void of arable land. All immigrants were forced to move away, after giving up everything to follow a worthless dream. A mocking Norwegian folk song was subsequently written about the colony. It was translated into English by Pete Seeger: Oleanna. Essentially, the song speaks of crops that grow themselves, and livestock that milk and slaughter themselves. Mamet has placed the first stanza of the song in the prologue.
The allusion, as applies to Mamet’s play, can have two parallels. More literally, John is trying to buy a house. His struggle throughout the play ends up failing, as the resources he had been promised to obtain and use the land were no longer there. The tenure, akin to a promise of arable land, was non-existent, and John lost all of the initial investments he had made to obtain a better standing.
More metaphorically, the allusion is symbolic in terms of education. John persists throughout the first act that education is nothing but hazing, never truly rewarding the students with the promises of accomplishment. Carol on the contrary has arrived at the university hoping for just these things. We do see the parallel to Oleanna however, in that Carol is unable to develop as an independent individual who would later be able to accomplish something in life. Education, in her case, has not had the promised effect.
As a further criticism of Carol’s education, Mamet uses a quote by Samuel Butler from The Way of All Flesh. According to Butler, “the absence of a genial mental atmosphere” is not “recognized by children who have never known it.” Directly referencing Carol’s poor socio-economic background, she has a tendency to take everything out of context and focus on one sole thing. She is unable of recognizing the education that is given to her, and thus focalizes on other, perhaps more trivial, issues such as her professors’ reactions to her. Education has failed to actually affect Carol.
While these quotes are quite important to someone reading the play, they would not be seen or heard by the audience watching a performance of Oleanna. On a reader, it has the impact of making the play’s themes more recognizable, a manner of understanding what is really going on. Because of Mamet’s minimalist stage directions, this can be quite hard to perceive. An audience however would not have the same necessity for help. Instead, they would see the physicality of the actors mapping out what is read in the prologue’s quotes.
2009 Opening Night: Oleanna
HOW TO BUY TICKETS
1. ONLINE: visit Telecharge.com
2. BY PHONE: Call Telecharge at (212) 239-6200 or (800) 432-7250
3. IN PERSON: The box office at 252 West 45th Street between Broadway and 8th Avenue.
PRICING: $76.50 - $116.50
A limited number of student rush tickets may be available at the box office for $25 starting 1 hour before the performance. Cash only. Student ID required.
Tuesday @7pm; Wednesday - Saturday @8pm; Wednesday and Saturday @2pm; Sunday @3pm*
*Schedule subject to change.
John Golden Theatre
252 West 45th Street
New York, NY 10036
(between Broadway and 8th Avenue)
SUBWAY: Take the N,Q,R,W or 1,2,3,7 to 42nd St., walk North on Broadway to 45th St. then West on 45th St.; Take the A,C,E to 42nd St., walk North on 8th Avenue to 45th St. then East on 45th St.
BILL PULLMAN started acting professionally in New York theatre in 1983, and shortly after began his film career which currently spans nearly 50 features. His films include Ruthless People, Spaceballs, Casper, The Serpent and the Rainbow, The Accidental Tourist, Igby Goes Down, Sleepless in Seattle, While You Were Sleeping, Independence Day, Malice, The Virginian, Wyatt Earp, The Last Seduction, Lost Highway, The Zero Effect, The Grudge. Recent films he has completed include Bottle Shock, Phoebe in Wonderland, Surveillance, You Kill Me, The Nobel Son and Your Name Here. Theatre credits include the world premiere of Edward Albee’s The Goat or, Who is Sylvia? (Drama Desk nomination) and Albee’s most recent production Peter and Jerry (Drama Desk nomination), as well as new plays by Beth Henley and Thomas Babe. Bill directed for the TV series "Night Visions", and directed and produced the TNT movie "The Virginian" (Wrangler Award/Best Picture, 2000). He also starred in a television mini-series for NBC Revelations. Bill has been an “Ambassador” for the MS Society since 1998 and serves on the board of Cornerstone Theater Company. Bill received a BA from the State University College at Oneonta, and an MFA in Theater Directing from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
JULIA STILES originally appeared in Oleanna opposite Aaron Eckhart at the Garrick Theatre in London’s West End in 2004. She began her career as a member of the Ridge Theater Company, performing at N.Y.’s La Mama and The Kitchen. Other stage credits include Viola in Twelfth Night for the Public Theater & opposite Mia Farrow in James Lapine’s Fran’s Bed at Playwrights Horizons. Stiles first worked with David Mamet in his film State and Main, as well as in the film adaptation of Mamet’s play Edmond. Stiles earned critical praise starring in Patrick Stettner’s independent feature, The Business of Strangers, opposite Stockard Channing. The film premiered at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival. She has starred in three Shakespearean film adaptations: O, Hamlet and Ten Things I Hate About You, for which she earned a 2000 MTV Movie Award for Best Female Breakthrough Performance and the Chicago Film Critics Award for Most Promising Actress. She reprised her role as Nicky in Paul Greengrass’ The Bourne Ultimatum, the last installment of The Bourne Trilogy. Other films include The Omen, A Guy Thing, Mona Lisa Smile, Little Trip To Heaven and Save The Last Dance. Stiles wrote and directed her first short film Raving, starring Zooey Deschanel and Bill Irwin. She graduated from Columbia University in 2005.
DAVID MAMET(Playwright) is the acclaimed and award-winning author of numerous plays including Glengarry Glen Ross (1984 Pulitzer Prize and New York Drama Critics Circle Award, 2005 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play), American Buffalo, Boston Marriage, November, Speed-The-Plow and The Cryptogram.
Mamet has written the screenplays for such films as The Verdict, The Untouchables, Wag the Dog and his own adaptation of Oleanna, and has twice been nominated for an Academy Award. He has written and directed 10 films including Homicide, The Spanish Prisoner, State and Main, House of Games, Spartan and Redbelt, and he’s also directed for the Theater. He is co-creator and Executive Producer of the CBS hit series “The Unit,” and is a Founding Member of The Atlantic Theatre Company.
Following a world premiere in May 1992 as the first production of David Mamet’s Back Bay Theater Company in Cambridge, MA and starring William H. Macy and Rebecca Pidgeon, OLEANNA had its New York premiere Off-Broadway at The Orpheum Theatre on October 23, 1992. Directed by Mamet and again starring Mr. Macy and Ms. Pidgeon, the hit production ran 513 performances, eventually featuring Treat Williams as John.
Some of the many other notable major productions of OLEANNA include the London premiere at The Royal Court Theatre (1993, directed by Harold Pinter, starring David Suchet and Lia Williams), the Australian premiere with the Sydney Theatre Company (1993, directed by Michael Gow, starring Geoffrey Rush and Cate Blanchett) and a London revival at the Garrick Theatre (2004, directed by Lindsay Posner, starring Aaron Ecklhart and Ms. Stiles). A film version, adapted and directed by Mamet and starring Mr. Macy and Debra Eisenstadt, was released nation-wide in 1994.
An aside: One wonders how Mamet's Oleanna would be received today in the #MeToo movement. It’s incredibly tempting in this era of #MeToo to see Mamet’s Oleanna, which first premiered in 1992, the heyday of political correctness and not incidentally the Anita Hill/Clarence Day hearings in which Hill accused Supreme Court nominee Day of sexual harassment, as a kind of indictment of both a smugly secure and obtuse male and the initially clueless and later vindictive female. Recently I saw the play again, this time starring as the student Carol (Joy Reiger) and her professor, John (Dan Shapira). My experience of seeing it in 2019 is different from my impressions in 2009. A reviewer from www.jpost.com opinionated about this 2019 version: In 2019, Oleanna is about monologues, which have replaced discourse. The characters in Oleanna, hear, but they do not listen. They talk at, not to each other.
Perhaps that is why the actors deliver their lines at breakneck speed and without a single pause, in the way Mamet writes into his work to indicate what could be said, what might be said, what’s being perhaps thought. But if nobody’s listening... This Oleanna is about a creeping deafness that is overtaking us all. How can that in any way be good?
One could say that about our political situation as well, as partisan politics overwhelm everything. My partner interupts this aside to show me a website he has found that sells round dog beds that looks like the dream bed for a dog or I should say our dog who prefers soft sofa pillows or our bed pillows to any dog bed that we have purchased in the past. Sam's bed preferences have led to some heated discussions. I do not want Sam to be sleeping on our bed and particularly not on my pillow. We order the round dog bed. When it arrives not only does Sam love it as his dog bed, friends who come over thinks its' a most comfortable floor pillow. We are thinking of ordering more. Guests will have pillows to sit on as they hang out and Sam will have a choice of dog bed pillows to sleep on. A win win situation, unlike the lose lose situation for the two characters in Oleanna.
Next we plan on seeing Mamet's newest play that just opened. Will Bitter Wheat, which Mamet has based on the Harvey Weinstein case and the emergence of the #MeToo movement, prove to be another Oleanna? I love Malkovich, so I am looking forward to his performance. Reviews have been mixed. That's nothing new for Mamet. But all have said Malkovich is astounding.
Et tu, Mamet? The Misogyny of 'Oleanna'
October 22, 2009 By Sarah Seltzer | https://forward.com/sisterhood
As an admirer of David Mamet’s writing style and piercing commentary, I was disappointed when I went, as a guest of a critic, to see the recently-opened production of his he-said, she-said sexual harassment play, “Oleanna”. After suffering through more than an hour of Julia Stiles’ student character, Carol, and Bill Pullman’s professor character, John, foolishly and nastily duking it out, I fear I may have to put Mamet in the Philip Roth club of talented Jewish male writers who fall into the trap of revealing their own misogyny instead of exposing their characters’.
“Oleanna” was meant to provoke, enrage and trouble us, to make us doubt our understanding of power, gender and harassment, and to ponder the difficulty of communication across those lines. Through the first half of the play, we sympathize with the kindly, if idiotic, John as played by Pullman, and later are horrified when Carol turns on him with her accusation of his inappropriate behavior, bolstered, it seems, by a crash course in feminist theory. But as John leans on his class, age, power and male privilege to fight her back with shocking results, our sympathies are definitely meant to shift and, I suppose we are then led to wonder if Carol’s original accusations didn’t have a ring of truth to them. But invariably, we don’t.
And that’s because, as Ben Brantley wrote last week:
Think about it afterward, or read the script, and you’ll realize that the sympathies of Mr. Mamet, a man’s man among playwrights, are definitely with John, however flawed he may be. It also becomes clear that Carol, as a character, is full of holes, most conspicuously in the way she uses words.
So the duel in “Oleanna” is not really a he-said, she-said situation. Instead Carol feels like a feminist bogeyman — a sexless, vengeful, patriarchy-hating monster arising from Mamet’s primal fears, painted over with a veneer of minimal sympathy.
And those fears are legitimized by the intellectual establishment. Here, a male playwright tackles the extremely rare problem of false accusations of harassment, and it’s considered universally relevant and sent to major theaters with big stars. I have to imagine that if a female writer took on the common issue of actual harassment, her play would likely be playing at a small downtown theater and pigeonholed as a feminist play.
Still, I’m willing to cut Mamet some minimal slack. “Oleanna” is a decade-plus-old piece of work, and hearkens back to a time (the early 1990s) when everyone thought the academy would be soon run aground by overzealous, PC censoriousness. Instead, as anyone who’s been at a university recently will tell you, known sexual harassers still walk among the professorial elite, while professors who specialize in women’s issues don’t exactly reign over academic discourse. The nightmare that “Oleanna” predicted never happened. I hope that if Mamet took on the issue today, the results would be a bit different.
Mamet's "Oleanna' revived in New York
Hubris on the loose, again
October 13, 2009 By Toby Zinman | www.broadstreetreview.com
I can't forget the 1992 premiere of Oleanna,David Mamet's stunning two-person sexual harassment drama (with Mamet directing William Macey and Rebecca Pidgeon). The venue was Off-Broadway, on a Saturday night with an audience one could assume to be sophisticated, acute and civilized. But everyone in the house was in full battle gear in that post-Anita Hill era of gender politics; among other shockers, somebody yelled out to the stage, "Hit the bitch." All of us left spitting mad, knowing we'd seen a work of major theater.
Still aggravating, still shocking, still engrossing after all these years, Oleanna is receiving a fierce and fine revival on Broadway starring Bill Pullman and Julia Stiles.
For me, this play about a male professor and his female student is a lose/lose proposition. As a career academic, I find John's "side" (and this is a play about taking sides) sometimes sympathetic, sometimes repulsive. As a woman, with vivid recollections of the bad old days, I find Carol's "side" sometimes sympathetic, sometimes repulsive. This is sociopolitical, psychosexual dialectic honed to a razor-sharp edge.
The preoccupied professor
In Mamet's scenario, John's course in theories of education has confused and discouraged Carol. She comes to him for help with the material and his response is both preoccupied (he's on the phone with his real estate agent about a problem with the house he hopes to buy) and willing to help (he offers to abandon the tyranny of a grade if she comes for tutorial sessions) and patronizing (his vocabulary is jargonized and pretentious).
The tenure committee has voted "yes" to his application but it's not yet official. Uh, oh. The professor is very tense: Pullman's John is so tightly wound you half expect his fingers to twang as he gestures in the air; it's a performance of thrilling subtlety and ambiguity.
Carol, in turn, is exasperatingly dense: She resorts to tears, creating a pitiable, self-demeaning defensive posture (Stiles is so thin, so vulnerable and sits folded up, arms folded across her body) as her seemingly willfully irrational arguments infuriate John (and us). But her questions are substantial: By teaching a course about the uselessness and fraudulence of college courses, isn't John just exploiting his contempt for his profession? (He had written a book called Empty Ritual.)
A struggle over talk
Somewhere between Act I and Act II, Carol has been taken up by a women's consciousness group, as a result of which she has filed a combative sexual harassment suit. Both Pullman and Stiles inhabit these characters so completely and intensely that their struggle between male and female, powerful and powerless, ideal and ideal amounts to witnessing a political revolution as well as a tragedy. Hubris is on the loose again, on both sides.
The issue isn't only who intended what, but who said what and who understood that what to mean what. Carol's literalism and incapacity to understand the nuances of language create some of the mayhem, but John's frustration at his inability to convince her— through language— of his good and noble intentions (what a pompous ass he is!) mean that this play, like all Mamet plays, is about talking.
The Venetian blinds descend
The set (designed by Neil Patel) begins this production; the stage is a ridiculously large academic office— wide, high and handsome, with huge windows revealing a charming college campus beyond. Then a weird electronic musical buzz begins and metallic Venetian blinds slowly descend in unison, covering the windows, sealing the office. This will occur— blind raised, then lowered with buzz—three times, dividing the three short acts (the play has no intermission).
Act I ends with this exchange about an forthcoming party:
John: There are those who would say it's a form of aggression.
Carol: What is?
John: A surprise.
If you want surprise and aggression, stick around for Act III. Under Doug Hughes's direction and Rick Sordelet's superb fight choreography, Oleanna still shoves us out of the theater into the street and into our lives, provoked if not enlightened. But it's a good bet you'll be mad, and another good bet you'll be convinced you've seen great theater.
PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Oleanna — Teacher's Petting?
12 Oct 2009 By Harry Haun | Playbill.com
Meet the first-nighters at the opening of Broadway's Oleanna.
You know the deck is slightly stacked when the first celebs to show up at the Oct. 11 opening of the Broadway revival of David Mamet's Oleanna are Lucy T. Slut, who practices sexual harassment as an Olympic sport, and the timid, milquetoast-y Rod. These two Avenue Q puppets, operated by Anika Larsen and Seth Rettberg, were there to welcome Bill Pullman and Julia Stiles to the Golden, where the puppets had just spent 6½ years, prior to downsizing and taking up residence Off-Broadway, as of Oct. 9, at New World Stages.
With a gender reversal and minor adjustments, Lucy and Rod echo the battle-of-the-sexes that Mamet masterminded back in 1992 in response to the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill furor and the PC fallout that followed it. He drew the battle-lines for this two-hander/bitch-slap between John, a vulnerable college prof whose new home is hanging by the frayed thread of tenure, and Carol, pleading tearfully and angrily for a passing grade. When he reaches out to console her, she turns the situation into an argument about appropriate behavior, and their miscommunication spins dizzily out of control, floor-boarding them to the abyss.
After this 80-minute assault, haggard first-nighters retired to the Blue Fin at the W Hotel on Broadway for stiff drinks — and, at most tables, the debate continued.
Press interviews were done in Blue Fin's glass-walled bar at the corner of Broadway and West 47th , and the television cameras attending the event attracted a horde of tourists who had been lolling around in patio furniture that now clutters The Great White Way. All seemed to pack cameras of their own and drove the two stars crazy, banging on the glass to get their shots while the interviews were still going on.
"This is my favorite place for a big party," declared lead producer Jeffrey Finn, who previously used it in 2005 for On Golden Pond (albeit, James Earl Jones and Leslie Uggams were not interviewed in the goldfish-bowl bar area and Broadway had not become a suburban thoroughfare).
"I just adore this play," he admitted. "It makes people talk, and that's what good theatre is about." Which is why he has set up a series of post-show discussions to follow the main event. "People are just staying in their seats, riveted. They want to talk about the play because there are so many issues to explore. They've had this incredible experience, and they want to keep it going. We have special panelists who are experts in their field — of education or media or politics or celebrity — and a great moderator for every one of them. I like to refer to it sometimes as a second act."
Finn did not employ a casting director to line up such a dead-on cast. "I did it myself," he confessed proudly. Pullman, the stumbling, sputtering Everyman sinking into a mire of miscommunication, and the gorgeous Stiles with a jaw-line of granite determination and a raw intelligence that betrays the possibility of calculation — these solidify the war zone and bring Mamet's diatribe of a play into sharper focus.
"It's a very different take than the original — primarily because we're seeing it in 2009. The original production took place in a certain moment in time, which made that production unique and made it the talked-about event in New York City for two years. We hope to do that again now because we have a whole new view of it. Where a lot of people think it's just about sexual harassment, it's really about power. That's such a large, large, overriding issue. It's a power game. It's a power play."
Next on Finn's agenda, pegged for Broadway in 2010, is the stage premiere of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, the old Spencer Tracy-Sidney Poitier-Katharine Hepburn clambake. "We're working on it now," he said. "We just did a reading of it with Jesse L. Martin, who was terrific." William Rose, who won 1967's Best Original Screenplay Oscar for it, has died; the new adaptation will be by Todd Kriedler, who, Finn pointed out, "was the dramaturg for August Wilson and was heavily involved in the writing of Radio Golf." Huddling in a corner in the second-floor dining area was Michael Ritchie, talking on a cellphone — to wife Kate Burton, who had just landed from L.A and was winging it toward the party. Ritchie is artistic director of the Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles (specifically, the Mark Taper Forum where Oleanna tried out).
"We'd started doing the show before I realized I had no idea what Oleannameant, and I had to look it up," he admitted. "It's the idea for a Utopian community — I believe, in upstate New York — the idea that all people could live in harmony."
In the published play, Mamet clears all this up in his hazy fashion by quoting from a folk song: "Oh, to be in Oleanna, / That's where I would rather be. / Than be bound in Norway / And drag the chains of slavery." There. Now, you know.
Oleanna is the first Broadway revival Doug Hughes has directed since The Royal Family opened three days ago (!), and there were stress marks on his usually smiling face. But he is not going to go to Disney World.
"I'm going into rehearsal Tuesday morning for The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. That's down at New York Theatre Workshop. It's a superb adaptation by Rebecca Gilman of Carson McCullers' great novel. I'm doing it with Henry Stram and James McDaniel."
The "double-dipping" he has been doing of late, he tended to downplay. "I had the advantage of having done the show in L.A. I think one of the advantages of doing a play successfully in one incarnation and knowing you're going to get a chance to do it again is to really reexamine it, which we did. We went back to work on the production very, very seriously. We didn't just remount the play. I'd meet the actors at nine every morning, and I'd work for five hours, and then I'd join the Royal Family company, which was in previews at that time, so that worked out very well. I walked through the parking lot between 45th and 46th, cut through the Edison Hotel, go over to the Friedman, and I'd see my company. It was a great privilege for me to be able to walk back and forth between two incredible companies of actors."
Otherwise, he conceded, they were worlds apart: "To direct The Royal Family is a fabulous assignment as a battlefield commander, and to direct Oleanna is a little taste of what it must be like to be a psychoanalyst."
Precise casting made his task easier. "I think these two play it hell-for-leather. Oleanna is an extraordinary play, and I think it's a genuine tragedy of democracy."
Political correctness, when cut too fine, creates casualties, and the question of Carol's commitment to bringing John's world down around his ears is still subject to debate, like the ones that spill over after the show. There's a certain lady-or-tigress question mark hovering over the play, and Hughes leaves the door open (as he did with his big Tony winner, Doubt) to opposite interpretations.
"She's somebody who has a viewpoint that she desperately wants to be heard, and so does he, and thereby hangs a tale," Hughes summarized simply. "The greatest plays arise out of impossible situations. Oleanna is a marvelous shift of power, an exertion of power, the use of power, the desire to acquire power — that's what we're all about at Oleanna, and that's what we're all about in our society."
He Said, She Said, but What Exactly Happened?
OCT. 11, 2009 By BEN BRANTLEY | NYTimes
Here’s a little physics puzzle for John, the university professor from David Mamet’s “Oleanna” and a man who practically breaks his neck by bending it to consider questions from different angles: How is it possible that two productions of the same play — occupying roughly the same amount of stage time and using almost exactly the same words — can move at such vastly different speeds?
Such reflections are prompted by Doug Hughes’s revival of “Oleanna,” Mr. Mamet’s confrontational drama from 1992, which opened Sunday night at the Golden Theater in its Broadway debut. When I first saw this two-character battle of the sexes (and the classes) off Broadway at the Orpheum Theater, it seemed to move at warp speed, and I left it with shortened breath and heightened blood pressure. Yet the latest version, which pits the excellent Bill Pullman against the luminous Julia Stiles, often seemed slow to the point of stasis, and its ending found me almost drowsy.
You could attribute my reactions to various sociological and psychological factors. Many years have passed since I first saw this show. I am not the same person, and America is no longer living in the immediate shadow of the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas, when the testimony of Anita F. Hill inspired a furious national debate on sexual harassment in the workplace.
But I think the real difference in my response is less a matter of politics than of good old art and craft. The original “Oleanna,” which starred William H. Macy as John and Rebecca Pidgeon as Carol, the combative college student, was directed by its author. Mr. Mamet’s approach to staging his own plays has always been text-driven, governed by his avowed (and somewhat disingenuous) theory that if the actors just say the lines and don’t dawdle, the play will take care of itself. Under his direction “Oleanna” was, above all, a war of words colliding.
As staged by Mr. Hughes, the current “Oleanna” flies bravely in the face of Mr. Mamet’s prescriptions about acting. “There is no character,” Mr. Mamet has written. “There are only lines upon the page.” This “Oleanna” squints to read between those lines, and Mr. Pullman and Ms. Stiles have obviously been encouraged to create characters who are more than what they say.
Normally this would be a good thing. But Mr. Hughes’s “Oleanna” unwittingly makes a solid case for adhering to the Mamet method. If the “Oleanna” of 1992 left you breathless, Mr. Hughes’s measured interpretation leaves you plenty of time to breathe — and weigh and calibrate the arguments of its irrevocably opposed characters. With a set by Neil Patel that lends oddly palatial dimensions to a college professor’s office (with scenes punctuated by the ominously slow closing of tall, automated Venetian blinds), the play has been pumped full of an air of thoughtfulness that paradoxically comes close to smothering it.
That’s partly because “Oleanna” is a play about people for whom language is a conditioned reflex. They don’t think before they speak, even when they believe they do. A series of encounters between John, a professor on the verge of landing tenure, and Carol, a student on the verge of failing his class, the play is essentially an extended conversation. But it is shaped by the understanding that all conversation is potentially dangerous.
Carol comes to John’s office, distraught, to ask for a passing grade; though preoccupied with his approaching tenure confirmation and plans to buy a new house, he decides to help her. What happens after is a matter of individual interpretation, even though we see exactly what happens.
Or do we? What’s so infernally ingenious about “Oleanna” is that as its characters vivisect what we have just witnessed, we become less and less sure of what we saw. Anyway, that’s what occurs in performance — or should.
Think about it afterward, or read the script, and you’ll realize that the sympathies of Mr. Mamet, a man’s man among playwrights, are definitely with John, however flawed he may be. It also becomes clear that Carol, as a character, is full of holes, most conspicuously in the way she uses words.
All this is uncomfortably visible in Mr. Hughes’s production. Part of the problem is that Ms. Stiles is such a naturally assured, even patrician presence that it’s hard to credit her as the confused, intellectually bankrupt student of the first scene. From the beginning Carol appears to have the upper hand. (When she cries, her tears seem made of ice.)
By comparison, Mr. Pullman’s John registers as an addled, vulnerable figure. As Mr. Macy played him, John was pompous, patronizing, self-deluding and, for all his Socratic questioning, as much the prisoner of his intellectual clichés as Carol is in the later scenes, when she becomes an avatar of political correctness. Mr. Pullman puts John’s lack of confidence on the surface. He’s a chronic self-doubter, full of fear and given to mumbling, as if he doesn’t entirely trust what he says.
As he has demonstrated in first-rate portraits in Edward Albee plays (“The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?,” “Peter and Jerry”), Mr. Pullman is an expert in men who wear guilt like an undershirt. He conceives John in the same vein, and it’s a carefully thought-through, often affecting performance, climaxing in a stirring vision of a man flayed of defenses.
Yet even when things get physical between John and Carol, Mr. Pullman and Ms. Stiles never seem to connect, or even to inhabit the same universe. Each has found a personal and unorthodox way of dealing with Mr. Mamet’s fierce, fragmented language. Ms. Stiles speaks with a stiff, ladylike crispness, while Mr. Pullman gives what may be the most naturalistic line readings I’ve ever heard in a Mamet play. Neither approach is entirely appropriate to Mamet-speak, though it would help if both performances were on the same stylistic page.
Topical resonance helped make “Oleanna” famous, and it’s that aspect that the play’s producers are no doubt hoping to capitalize on with the production’s post performance talk-back series with assorted guest celebrities (former Mayor David N. Dinkins, Kathryn Erbe of “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” etc.). But “Oleanna” exists on its own timeless terms, and they’re defined by the power and limits of language.
With Mr. Mamet, the words really do come first. As this production demonstrates, interpreters who try to sidestep this cardinal rule do so at their peril.
DOUG HUGHES (Director) Recent Broadway productions include A Man for All Seasons, Mauritius, Inherit the Wind, A Touch of the Poet, Frozen and Doubt (also seen at the Ahmanson Theatre at the start of its national tour). He has worked extensively off-Broadway and at most of the nation’s leading resident theatres. He has been awarded the Tony, the Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, Lucille Lortel, Obie and Callaway Awards for his productions.
NEIL PATEL (Set Designer) CTG: This Beautiful City, Glimmer, Glimmer and Shine, iWitness. Broadway: [title of show], Sideman (West End and Kennedy Center), ‘night, Mother, Ring of Fire. West End: Underneath the Lintel. Off-Broadway: Dinner With Friends (Variety Arts Theater and national tour), Roundabout, Public, MTC, Playwrights Horizons, Second Stage, Vineyard Theatre, NYTW, Primary Stages, MCC, BAM. Opera: New York City Opera, Santa Fe Opera, Minnesota Opera, Boston Lyric Opera, Florida Grand Opera, Opera Theatre St. Louis, Tokyo Nikikai Opera Theatre. TV: "In Treatment" (HBO). Helen Hayes Award, numerous Drama Desk nominations, 1996 and 2001 Obie Awards for sustained excellence. www.neilpateldesign.com.
CATHERINE ZUBER (Costume Designer) The 125 Gala for the Metropolitan Opera, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (Lincoln Center), The Cherry Orchard (Mark Taper Forum), The Winter’s Tale (BAM’s Bridge Project). The Lincoln Center Theater: South Pacific (Tony Award), The Coast of Utopia (Tony Award, Outer Critics Circle Award), Awake and Sing! (Tony Award), Edward Albee’s Seascape (Tony Award nomination), The Light in the Piazza (Tony Award, Outer Critics Circle Award nomination), Dinner at Eight, Twelfth Night (Tony Award nominations). Other Broadway credits include Roundabout’s A Man for All Seasons, Cry-Baby, Doubt, Frozen, Dracula, The Sound of Music, Triumph of Love, among others. Recipient: 2003, 2004 and 2007 Henry Hewes Award for Design; 2004 and 2005 Lucille Lortel Award; 2004 Ovation Award; 1997 and 2005 Obie Award for Sustained Achievement. Other projects include the 1999 Fete des Vignerons, Vevey, Switzerland. Opera: Romeo et Juliette (Salzburg Festival); Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Dr. Atomic and The Tales of Hoffmann (The Metropolitan Opera).
DONALD HOLDER (Lighting Designer) Broadway: 30 productions, including South Pacific (2008 Tony Award, Drama Desk nomination), Les Liaisons Dangereuses, A Streetcar Named Desire, Gem of the Ocean, Movin’ Out, Juan Darien (all Tony-nominated), The Lion King (Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle Awards), Cyrano de Bergerac, Radio Golf, Thoroughly Modern Millie and The Boy From Oz. Recent Off-Broadway: The Marriage of Bette and Boo, Romantic Poetry, Saved, Almost an Evening, The Pain and the Itch, Romeo and Juliet (Delacorte). Regional Theatre: Center Stage, Steppenwolf, Goodman, Arena Stage, South Coast Repertory, Huntington, Seattle Rep, Intiman, Williamstown, Old Globe, La Jolla Playhouse, many others. Mark Taper Forum/Kirk Douglas Theatre: Pippin, The Little Dog Laughed, The House of Blue Leaves, Jitney, Hughie, Spunk, Yellow Face, Without Walls, Glimmer, Glimmer and Shine, many others. LA Opera: Grendel.
JEFFREY FINN (Producer). Broadway: Blithe Spirit, On Golden Pond (Tony nomination, Best Revival). Off-Broadway: Game Show. Regional: Oleanna at the Mark Taper Forum. National Tours : The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, The Subject Was Roses, On Golden Pond, The Who’s Tommy, Leader of the Pack, Tell Me On A Sunday, Promises, Promises, Company, Chess, and numerous Broadway Songbooks concert tours. In 1992, Jeffrey Finn Productions launched a corporate events company, Hot On Broadway, to produce customized corporate entertainment exclusively featuring current Broadway performers. Upcoming Broadway projects include the stage premiere of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner adapted from the Academy Award-winning film. www.jeffreyfinnproductions.com
ARLENE SCANLAN (Producer) produced Charles Dickens’ Two Cities, The Musical at The Stamford Center for the Arts in 2004. On Golden Pond, starring James Earl Jones (Tony Award nomination for Best Play Revival in 2005). 2009, Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit starring Angela Lansbury. Off-Broadway: Cindy Adams, Only in New York . Arlene’s greatest productions remain her three children Leah, Matthew and Daniel.
JED BERNSTEIN (Producer), after eleven years as President of the Broadway League, launched Above the Title Entertainment, a Theatre/Television production company and marketing consultancy. First projects have included the critically acclaimed Off-Broadway revue, Don't Quit Your Night Job, Passing Strange, the smash revival of Equus starring Daniel Radcliffe, and the Tony-winning revival of Hair. Jed also serves as Executive Director of the Commercial Theater Institute.
KEN DAVENPORT (Producer) Broadway: 13, Speed The Plow, Blithe Spirit, Will Ferrell’s You’re Welcome America. Off-Broadway: Altar Boyz, Awesome 80s Prom, My First Time. Featured in an iPhone commercial and named a Crain’s Magazine’s “40 Under 40”. Founded Broadway’s #1 social networking website, BroadwaySpace.com. Future projects include a musical of the film Somewhere In Time and a documentary on the top unsigned rock band in the country, Red Wanting Blue. For more, including Ken’s blog, which has been featured in Vanity Fair, New York Magazine, The Gothamist and more, visit DavenportTheatrical.com.
CARLA EMIL (Producer) has been a David Mamet fan since 1975 when she saw the original production of American Buffalo at the St. Nicholas Theater in Chicago . So she is thrilled to be a part of Oleanna. Carla's other Broadway involvements include The Seagull and The Norman Conquests. She is a proud member of the board of Second Stage Theatre.
ERGO ENTERTAINMENT (Producer) is a theatrical and film producing partnership formed by Donny Epstein, Yeeshai Gross and Elie Landau. Broadway: Mamet’s Speed-the-Plow and November. Also, You’re Welcome America (2009 Tony nomination), Impressionism, The Homecoming (2008 Tony nomination), Barefoot in the Park, Steel Magnolias, Long Day’s Journey Into Night (2003 Tony Award). Off-Broadway: Private Jokes, Public Places (also London ); Something Old, Something New. Film: Paper Clips (2006 Emmy nomination; 2005 Christopher Award), The Fallen (2005 Milan Int'l FF Audience Award), Let It Snow (Sundance 2000).
ELIE HIRSCHFELD (Producer) Elie Hirschfeld is President of Hirschfeld Properties NYC (www.hirschfeldnyc.com). Trustee Emeritus of Brown University and Long Island University. Trustee of Beth Israel, Long Island College, NY Eye & Ear, Roosevelt and St. Luke's Hospitals, NYC and of Weizmann Institute, Israel. President of Hirschfeld Productions - Equus, Passing Strange (Tony nomination, Best Musical), The Fantasticks, Love Thy Neighbor, Doubt, Year with Frog & Toad. Completed Hawaii Ironman Triathlon. Father of Daniella, David, Benjamin, Jonathan & Matthew
RACHEL HIRSCHFELD (Producer) has loved Broadway since she was ten, when her father, Abe, bought the Hudson Theatre. President of Soupbone Productions: The Prince of Central Park, On Golden Pond (Tony nomination, James Earl Jones) and Blithe Spirit (Tony Award, Angela Lansbury). Rachel is a world renowned legal advocate for animals, pioneering Pet Trusts and Pet Protection Agreements. Inspired by her rescue pets, Soupbone, Swizzle, Topper and Tamma (a homed feral cat), she founded www.Petriarch.com. Rachel has three children: Simona, Mark and Amber and five grandchildren: Ella, Max, Hugo, Sula and Otto.
HOP THEATRICALS (Producer) HOP Theatricals and Larry Kaye are pleased to be involved with Oleanna. Recent HOP projects include Rooms at New World Stages and Blithe Spirit at The Shubert. In addition to his producing work, Larry is co-author of The Tapioca Miracle, which had its first New York reading in April 2009. www.HOPTh.com
BRIAN M. FENTY (Producer) is proud to be making his Broadway producing debut with such an exceptional and powerful Oleanna. Brian, an investor and entrepreneur in New York , serves as President of The Last Vineyard. Thanks to: family, friends, 5B, 4F, HIP, cc, Doug. And to Mom for nearly two decades parked outside the stage door – The dream lives on!
MARTY JONES (Producer) is an independent investor in Broadway and off-Broadway productions, having recently been involved with the Donmar Warehouse production of Mary Stuart. Ms. Jones is President of the Celebrity Series of Boston, Inc., serves on the Board of New York’s Women’s Theatre Project, and in 1982 served on the founding management team for the Huntington Theatre Company (a L.O.R.T. theatre) in Boston, MA .
CENTER THEATRE GROUP (Producer) (Michael Ritchie, Artistic Director; Charles Dillingham, Managing Director; Gordon Davidson, Founding Artistic Director) is Los Angeles’ leading theater company and one of the nation’s preeminent arts organizations, programming theater year-round at the Mark Taper Forum and the Ahmanson Theatre at the L.A. Music Center, and the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City, and developing an impressive number of Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning plays.