The AndyGram

Thursday, Jul 24th

You are here: Home Theatre Reviews & Features 2009-10 Reviews Broadway Review: “Oleanna” Revival or New Play?
Wednesday, 14 October 2009 23:21

Broadway Review: “Oleanna” Revival or New Play?

Written by 
Oleanna
Bill Pullman and Julia Stiles in
Oleanna
Photo: Craig Schwartz

David Mamet’s Oleanna is a riveting play.  Interestingly, between the passage of time from when the play first premiered (1992) and now,  and the performance given by our leading man, this play appears to be about something altogether different than Mamet originally intended. 

A college professor played by Bill Pullman meets with a young, seemingly naïve student played by Julia Stiles.  She doesn’t understand the course he is teaching.  During the first scene it is hard to make heads or tails of what the student wants or expects from the professor.    She only completes about fifty percent of the sentences she starts (as does he for that matter).  She comes off as suffering from some type of post-traumatic stress disorder.   

Pullman’s character is a manic Bob Newhart.  His tenure has just been announced (but not signed) and he is in the midst of a troubled transaction for a new home.  Throughout the play he is answering his wife’s phone calls while attempting to deal with an unbalanced young girl.  He has told her that as long as she continues to come to his office (I assumed for tutoring, silly me) she would get an A in the course.  The professor also has his own break-down in this scene expounding on his inability to accept and reconcile his success in life and spilling other personal information a professor should probably not be discussing with a student.

In the second scene we discover that the young girl has filed a grievance with the tenure committee in an effort to have his tenure not confirmed.  The third scene finds the professor not only without tenure but most likely without a job.  In both of these scenes the young female student keeps returning to the professor’s office (against the advice of her counsel).  The tenure board has found him guilty of the accusations.  By the end of the play the girl out-and-out claims she was raped.

Oleanna
Julia Stiles and Bill Pullman in
Oleanna
Photo: Craig Schwartz

When this play premiered off-Broadway in 1992 it was in the shadow of the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas controversy.  Clarence Thomas, an appointee for the Supreme Court by the first President Bush was accused by Hill in his confirmation hearings of having had sexually charged conversations with her.  In the early nineties the pendulum of political correctness had swung full-tilt on the side of caution. 

After performances of the original production, Oleanna  was known to start arguments in the lobby with people taking various sides.  After tonight’s performance there was a talk-back with an attorney who specializes in sexual harassment in the workplace and a psychologist.  About 100-150 audience members stayed for the talk.  There were none of those same arguments or confrontation.  It wasn’t even particularly passionate.  There seemed to be a consensus that the girl was nuts and the professor damn near.  Sure, he said things that could have been misconstrued.  Perhaps he crossed a barely visible technical line.  But there was nothing in Mr. Pullman’s performance that would have led to the conclusion that his intentions were anything but pure.  This young girl either had an ax to grind or was suffering with some type of mental disorder that inhibited her ability to think rationally.  That was obvious about half-way through the first scene. 

Oleanna is directed by the talented Doug Hughes (Doubt).  He is also represented on Broadway this fall with The Royal Family for Manhattan Theatre Club.  The two plays couldn’t be further apart in tone, style or time period. 

Was there a conscious decision on the part of Mr. Hughes to have Pullman maintain this barely pulled together professor as opposed to a more menacing and dominant figure?  If so, by changing the focus has he created an entirely new play? 

To cover costume changes between scenes Mr. Hughes chose to have electronic blinds in the massive office windows go up and back down, signifying the passage of time or perhaps even seasons.  This was accompanied by the loud disconcerting hum of the blind’s motors.  These elements combined to create an intimidating environment that was magnified by the closed blinds.  The blinds gave the room a feeling of being closed off, dark and smaller than its actual size.  The choice of these elements leads me to believe that it was not Mr. Hughes decision that the play should be about something other than sexual harassment and rape.  If that is indeed true, Mr. Pullman was let down by his director.  Depending upon the weight you put on those elements, the play may no longer work as directed by Mr. Hughes. 

Because I enjoyed the performances so much I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and chalk it up to a bad design call.  Unfortunately, if his intention was that the play was about something else, then the ending is very unsatisfying.

{sharethis} 

Buy Tickets

Read the production credits at the Broadway Internet Database

Review Roundup:

David Rooney for Variety – ” the play remains provocative, even if it's unlikely to spark the same impassioned debates it did 17 years ago. The big difference is it now seems more about the misinterpretation of words and intent than the then-hot-button issue of sexual harassment.”

Ben Brantley  for The New York Times – “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.”

Joe Dziemianowicz for NY Daily News – “Sitcoms are built for laughs. Oleanna is made to enrage — it's a sitbomb."

Michael Kuchwara for The Associated Press – “The play caused quite a stir when it was staged off-Broadway in 1992. And there's no reason to expect that this fine new production won't generate a similar response, even among people who saw it some 17 years ago.”

Last modified on Thursday, 10 December 2009 21:36

Now Playing On Broadway

More... A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder    

A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder

When Monty Navarro, a disinherited relative of the rich and powerful D’Ysquith clan, learns he’s ninth in line to inherit the earldom, he sets out to secure his future by,…

More...
More... A Night with Janice Joplin    

A Night with Janice Joplin

  Like a comet that burns far too brightly to last, Janis Joplin (Mary Bridget Davies) exploded onto the music scene in 1967 for three incredible years, reigning as the…

More...
More... Kinky Boots    

Kinky Boots

Charlie Price has suddenly inherited his father’s shoe factory, which is on the verge of bankruptcy. Trying to live up to his father’s legacy and save his family business, Charlie…

More...
More... Realistic Joneses, The    

Realistic Joneses, The

What do you really know about your neighbors? Toni Collette, Michael C. Hall, Tracy Letts and Marisa Tomei invite you to find out. Hailed by the New York Times as…

More...
More... Jersey Boys    

Jersey Boys

Jersey Boys tells the rags-to-riches story of one of the greatest successes in pop music history. Go behind the music of Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons, and meet four…

More...
More... Book of Mormon, The    

Book of Mormon, The

The Book of Mormon tells the story of two young Mormon missionaries sent off to spread the word in a dangerous part of Uganda. Their tale is told alongside the…

More...
More... Cinderella, Rodgers and Hammerstein's    

Cinderella, Rodgers and Hammerstein's

Rodgers & Hammerstein classic television production premieres on Broadway this spring.  It adds songs from the duo's catalog and adds a new twist to an old tale! Songs include “In…

More...
More... Mamma Mia!    

Mamma Mia!

The infectious music of ABBA provides the framework for a romp through the preparations of an unusual wedding.

More...
More... Beautiful - The Carole King Musical    

Beautiful - The Carole King Musical

Beautiful tells the inspiring true story of Carole King’s remarkable rise to stardom from being part of a chart-topping songwriting team with her husband Gerry Goffin, to her relationship with…

More...
More... Motown: The Musical    

Motown: The Musical

Motown: The Musical is the real story of the one-of-a-kind sound that hit the airwaves in 1959 and changed our culture forever. This exhilarating show charts Motown Founder Berry Gordy's…

More...
More... Act One    

Act One

Lincoln Center Theatre presents James Lapine directing his own adaptation of Moss Hart's classic autobiography which eloquently chronicles the playwright/director's impoverished childhood and his determined struggle to escape poverty and…

More...
More... Newsies    

Newsies

Set in New York City at the turn of the century, Newsies is the rousing tale of Jack Kelly, a charismatic newsboy and leader of a ragged band of teenaged…

More...
More... Pippin    

Pippin

Royal heir Pippin is spurred on by a mysterious group of performers to embark on a death-defying journey to find his “corner of the sky.”  The original production of PIPPIN,…

More...
More... A Raisin in the Sun    

A Raisin in the Sun

Set on Chicago’s South Side, A Raisin in the Sun revolves around the divergent dreams and conflicts within three generations of the Younger family: son Walter Lee (Denzel Washington), his…

More...
More... Matilda The Musical    

Matilda The Musical

MATILDA is the story of an extraordinary little girl who decides that despite a bad beginning filled with rotten parents, a terrifying school and a vicious head mistress, her story is…

More...
More... Chicago    

Chicago

Set amidst the razzle-dazzle decadence of the 1920s, CHICAGO is the story of Roxie Hart, a housewife and nightclub dancer who murders her lover after he threatens to walk out…

More...
More... Violet    

Violet

Two-time Tony Award® winner Sutton Foster returns to Roundabout in the highly anticipated Broadway debut of the musical Violet, following the acclaimed concert performance at City Center Encores! Off-Center. Winner…

More...
More... Rock of Ages (at Helen Hayes)    

Rock of Ages (at Helen Hayes)

In 1987 on the Sunset Strip, a small-town girl met a big-city rocker, and in L.A.’s most famous rock club, they fell in love to the greatest songs of the…

More...
More... Phantom of the Opera, The    

Phantom of the Opera, The

Andrew Lloyd Webber's smash musicalization of the Gaston Leroux novel won the 1988 Tony Award for Best Musical and is now the longest-running show in Broadway history.

More...
More... If / Then    

If / Then

On the verge of turning 40, Elizabeth moves back to New York City, the ultimate city of possibility, intent on a fresh start - new home, new friends, and hopes…

More...
More... All the Way    

All the Way

1963. An assassin’s bullet catapults Lyndon Baines Johnson into the presidency. A Shakespearean figure of towering ambition and appetite, the charismatic, conflicted Texan hurls himself into Civil Rights legislation, throwing…

More...
More... After Midnight    

After Midnight

The evocative new musical After Midnight will take the sexy, smoky glamour of the original Jazz Age and catapult it into a whole new era of heart-pounding, mind-blowing entertainment for…

More...
More... Cabaret    

Cabaret

Based on Christopher Isherwood's The Berlin Stories, the musical is the story of Cliff, an American writer who comes to Berlin at the dawn of the Hitler era. He falls…

More...
More... Rocky    

Rocky

Somewhere in downtown Philadelphia, a down-and-out fighter named Rocky Balboa struggles to stay on his feet. But when the chance of a lifetime comes along, he takes his best shot…

More...
More... Once    

Once

On the streets of Dublin, an Irish musician (Guy) and a Czech immigrant (Girl) are drawn together by their shared love of music. Over the course of one fateful week,…

More...
More... Wicked    

Wicked

Wicked tells the incredible untold story of anunlikely friendship between two girls who first meet as Sorcery Students at Shiz University: the blonde and very popular Glinda and a misunderstood…

More...
More... Bullets Over Broadway    

Bullets Over Broadway

Bullets Over Broadway tells the story of an aspiring young playwright (Zach Braff) newly arrived on Broadway in 1920’s New York who is forced to cast a mobster's (Vincent Pastore)…

More...
More... Lion King    

Lion King

Julie Taymor's acclaimed staging of the Disney animated film has been hailed as a Broadway landmark. The story focuses on a young lion cub's personal journey toward his destiny as…

More...
Frontpage Slideshow | Copyright © 2006-2012 JoomlaWorks Ltd.