DAVID MAMET’S two character play Oleanna puts a middle-aged college professor and his young female student in a room during which time certain events take place and things are said. Their meaning is wide open to interpretation – between the characters as well as the audience.
A bit like Schrodinger’s Cat, whether or not these actions happened or did not happen will depend on how you – and they – view the result. One thing is certain, however: you will be talking about this as you exit the theatre.
Award-winning Alan Committie is probably best-known for his comedy (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Love Factually, Defending the Caveman) but he is equally adept at serious drama, and a pleasure to watch in both guises. He plays the professor, John, opposite actress and TV star Nicole Fortuin (SABC 3’s RoerJouVoete, Generations – The Legacy, Swartwater, and Warner Bros’ A Cinderella Story: If The Shoe Fits) as Carol. Once a real life school teacher himself, I’d be interested to hear Committie’s take on this, if we get the chance.
In the first act, things seem relatively innocent. Carol is confused and struggling with the course material, while John – who is awaiting tenure – offers to help her…including the promise of an A if she will come back to his office for additional tutoring. During this time, John is distracted by the constantly-ringing telephone, dealing with his wife and the house they are buying.
When Carol returns to John’s office in Act II, it’s to inform John about her claims of his alleged sexual misconduct and harassment. Given their roles of teacher and student, did John abuse his power over Carol? Did he in fact have nefarious intentions when he placed his hands on her, ostensibly to comfort her? Or is Carol hysterically overreacting, possibly succumbing to peer pressure from her alluded-to “group”? There is much to think about here, with topics and themes including intellectual freedom and sexual politics against the background of academic, institutional and structural inequality – issues that are as relevant now as they ever have been.
At the end of the play, my friend Kerry opined that the adoption of similar-sounding American accents didn’t do the play any favours, particularly when attempting to understand the social positions of John and Carol, which in turn would affect how we the audience would rule in this case. After thinking about it a while, I think stripping this external indicator of prejudice gives us far more pause for thought. You’re going to have to judge for yourself.
Oleanna is directed by the Fugard Theatre’s resident director Greg Karvellas (Shakespeare in Love, Significant Other, The Road to Mecca, The Father, Clybourne Park, Bad Jews, Champ), and carries an age restriction of no under 16. It will be presented in the Fugard Studio Theatre for a limited season, Tuesdays to Saturdays at 8pm with a matinee on Saturdays at 3pm. Sunday performances will be presented from Sunday, September 30 at 3pm. Tickets from R150 are available directly through the Fugard Theatre box office on 021 461 4554 or online at www.thefugard.com. There is a 15% discount for Friends of the Fugard and a 10% discount for pensioners. These discounted tickets can be booked through the Fugard Theatre box office.
PLEASE NOTE: Themes and content of sexual harassment and violence against women are prevalent at certain times in the play. These could be triggering to some audience members. If you would like more information about the content of this production, email [email protected]
PHOTO CREDIT: CLAUDE BARNARDO