BWW Review: OLEANNA provokes at The Landing Theatre Company

BWW Review: OLEANNA provokes at The Landing Theatre CompanyThe Landing Theatre Company decided to revive David Mamet's 1992 treatise on political correctness and the war of the sexes - OLEANNA. It could not come at a more opportune time. Rather than age to irrelevance, the script seems downright prescient in the wake of the #metoo movement which has sparked conversations, debates, and concerns over the state of men in power and women equalizing their role in the equation. It is an important piece of theatre that deserves to be seen again, and it gets a suitably strong resurrection at 14 Pews.

OLEANNA is a two character play that features a college professor and a female student. The entire play takes place inside the educator's office, and only consists of three scenes. The first part sets up everything - it is a decidedly strange meeting where the professor seems distracted, but at the same time trying to console a student who feels she is not doing well in understanding his class. Nothing overt seems to happen, but the cadence seems off and the audience senses a disconnect between the two. In the following two scenes we find out the student feels like she was harassed by the professor, and the issues get more and more complicated minute by minute.

Back in 1992 OLEANNA was a meditation on the political correctness sweeping through higher education in that era. Today it is destined to be part of the continuing discussion of how men and women relate in professional settings. Who has the power? Who is misusing it? Are either of them justified in the assumptions they are making? Famed film critic Roger Ebert observed that when he saw the play in its original run there were literally fights in the auditorium between people at intermission and after the show. I don't think that will change in 2018. OLEANNA may actually spark more debate than it ever has.

The Landing Theatre Company is staging this one at 14 Pews high up in the Heights. It is an uncomfortably intimate space that consists of just over a dozen rows of seats, so you will be close to the action no matter where you sit. The staging is tight, and the lighting is simple and effective - some overhead shafts aimed at the office and an office desk lamp. Technically this one has everything it needs to work. Krystal Marie Uchem has made interesting choices in costuming allowing the professor to be suitably upscale and the student a grungy counterpoint. We see the divisions straight away.

Marty Blair and Skyler Sinclair are the only ones onstage, and they are all you need. In the first scene he is imperious, she is mousy, and they both frustrate the audience with their staccato delivery of overlapping lines that diffuse sense and logic. He's smarmy and comes on far too strong, and she seems confused, helpless, and unable to articulate ideas. Those tables turn quickly throughout the evening, and both actors handle the shifts in power ably. Blair is likeable enough to keep us off balance, and Sinclair proves her mouse can roar. Together they duet and spar and bring OLEANNA to life. They make the dense dialogue seem effortless and handle the material well. Audiences will be provoked by them both, and that is how it should be. Sophia Watt's direction has brought out two fine performances at just the right pace to keep things taut and immersive.

OLEANNA demands to be seen again, and The Landing Theatre Company has just the right chops to bring it to life at 14 Pews. It feeds off the intimate space, and they have found two actors who have the energy to deliver the message at the right pitch to make the audience squirm. You may not be entirely comfortable, but you will be riveted and surprised at how things you thought you knew change and twist as they are examined. This is exactly what a great night at the theatre should be.

OLEANNA plays at 14 Pews through August 11th. Tickets can be purchased through the link .

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From This Author Brett Cullum

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