Review: Oleanna (Soulpepper)

By Adam Collier


 

Soulpepper is producing Oleanna by David Mamet. Oleanna runs to March 5th at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts.

Soulpepper is – in my experience – distinct amongst theatre companies in Toronto, because it pays a lot of attention to making the details of a play seem real.

For example, the company’s revival of Glengarry Glenn Ross – another work by Mr. Mamet – offered a stunning set design in Act Two. With its metal desks and florescent lighting, the set had a dead intensity that seemed true to the play’s emotionally insensitive premise.

I was curious to see how Soulpepper would interpret Oleanna. A play that perhaps more any of Mr. Mamet’s preceding work – already quite spare in set and costume details – requires next-to-nothing to produce.

Oleanna has two characters. One is a professor (played by Diego Matamoros). The other is a student (Sarah Wilson) in a class where the former lectures.

From fragments of conversation on the phone, and a single reference to problems at home, Mr. Mamet suggests that the professor has an unstable personal life.

The playwright also suggests that Mr. Matamoros’ character has a fairly good career going. For example, he has had a book published – referred to repeatedly before the meaty-looking tome is identified on his desk. And, the attention of the tenure review board.

Ms. Wilson’s character acts as a foil and counterpoint to the insecurities and arrogance of her teacher. To offer more in the way of details risks giving away too much.

Though I like David Mamet’s work generally, Oleanna is very enjoyable.

It is unusually debatable though, whether this is because of Soulpepper’s production choices. Usually I’d say yes – of course the vision of Soulpepper adds to a play – but with Oleana, I’m not so sure.

Don’t get me wrong. The acting is good – a smooth delivery of Mr. Mamet’s knotty text – and the lighting is okay.

But my show partner said he found the set design distracting. And said more-or-less the same of the music that introduces the play (a track by Leonard Cohen).

I agree.

Still, that doesn’t – for me at least – take-away from the text. Mr. Mamet offers as much wisdom as anything that Arthur Miller wrote, while the language – or syntax, to be more specific – seems to flow more naturally than Mr. Miller’s.

Like other works by Mr. Mamet – awarded the 1984 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, for “Glengarry” – the text is full of non-sequitors and the structure is broken-up into scenes that pick-up and leave-off ambiguously. So when I say that the delivery is smooth and believable I mean it as a big compliment to both actors.

What makes this work really standout though, for me, is I feel like I get it in a way that I didn’t get earlier works by Mr. Mamet.

Only when I’m in a bad mood usually, do I share the bleak and lonely feelings that seem so apparent in the substance and structure of “Glengarry” and – the recently revived – Sexual Perversity in Chicago.

But here, I got it and wasn’t in that negative headspace. Oleanna offers a sort-of accessible misanthropy that previous works don’t.

Like all of Mamet’s work, in my experience, it provoked hours of conversation with my friend after.

Oleanna is really worth checking out.

Details

– Oleana is playing at Young Centre for the Performing Arts. It begins at eight o’clock Tuesday through Saturday (no shows Sunday or Monday). There is a matinee at two o’clock on Saturdays.

– Ticket prices range from $28-to-$60

For more info, please visit www.soulpepper.ca

2 thoughts on “Review: Oleanna (Soulpepper)”

  1. I found this review somewhat flawed and incomplete. With only two characters present, it is particularly odd to not even refer to the second character/actor in the piece. In my opinion, that is actually where this production sagged. The actor playing the professor really embraced the character – it felt as if the words he used were his own. Unfortunately the same could not be said for the female actor. Yes, the play was supposed to show a growth in her grasp of language and her level of confidence, it felt as if the actor was simply reciting memorized text, she was not delivering heartfelt thoughts.

    I actually enjoyed the set. The colours were muted and the lines simple. And Iactually commented to my fellow attendee that the light was particularly clever – the way it intensified in certain moments to drive the emotion. The shadows that were cast at particular moments on the wall visually communicated the defeat the professor began to face.

    A compelling play and another great production by Soulpepper.

  2. One more note. It is disappointing to see the reviewer misspell the title of the play several times throughout his comments.

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