By Adam Collier
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.
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).
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.
– 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