OLEANNA Opens On Thursday At Walnut Street Theatre
Walnut Street Theatre's 2018-19 Independence Studio on 3 Season continues with the gripping and timely play, OLEANNA. Written by David Mamet and directed by Debi Marcucci, the production begins previews on January 15, opens January 17, and continues through February 17.
In OLEANNA, Pulitzer Prize Winner David Mamet pulls us into a fierce and fiery story that foreshadowed today's headlines. "He said, she said" reaches explosive new heights when a university professor and his student view their tutoring sessions from two drastically different perspectives. Miscommunication, manipulation, misogyny... or more? Decide for yourself in this tense and timely tale of gender politics, privilege, and power.
OLEANNA was written in 1992, almost immediately after the 1991 Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas debate in which Hill, a law professor who had previously worked under Thomas at the United States Department of Education, accused Supreme Court Nominee Thomas of making sexually provocative statements while she was his attorney-advisor. Due to a media frenzy and full investigation exploring Thomas and Hill's characters, the nation quickly became divided in whom they supported. Thomas was confirmed later that year with a 52 to 48 vote, the narrowest margin for Supreme Court approval in more than a century.
Due to the debate, and the media's explicit coverage of the scandal, a significant number of liberal women were elected to Congress in 1992 - with many labelling it "The Year of the Woman."
"It is no coincidence that Oleanna premiered one year after the October 1991 Anita Hill hearings," noted director Debi Marcucci. "To re-examine this piece, now decades later through today's lens is not only exceedingly timely, relevant and poignant, but also an essential exploration of power, gender, and sexual dynamics of the universal human condition."
OLEANNA premiered in 1992 in Massachusetts at David Mamet's Back Bay Theater Company. The show was directed by Mamet himself and featured his wife, Rebecca Pidgeon, in the role of Carol. That October, a year after the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings, the show appeared Off-Broadway at the Orpheum Theatre. In this production, a fiery rewritten third act was added, causing New York Times critic Frank Rich to note that "Oleanna is likely to provoke more arguments than any play this year."
In 1993, the show premiered in London, under the direction of Harold Pinter. The next year, Mamet wrote and directed his own film adaptation of the show, which used the tagline "Whatever side you take...you're wrong." The show made its Broadway debut in 2009 at the John Golden Theatre.
The Walnut Street Theatre's production of OLEANNA is being performed 26 years after the original, though due to many recent events the social and political climate has once again become similar to that surrounding the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings. In fact, 2018 was also named "Year of the Woman," after the Women's March, #MeToo Movement, and pushback from the Brett Kavanagh Supreme Court nomination hearings prompted a historical victory for women in the November Congress, Senate, and Governor mid-term elections. With the Kavanagh hearing at the forefront of the nation's mind, Mamet's play of gender politics and "he-said, she-said" gains new significance as men and women both must reexamine and reevaluate the multitude of interpretations that can be drawn from seemingly innocent actions and word choices.
Debi Marcucci returns to the Walnut to direct OLEANNA. Previously, Marcucci directed last season's Tell Me on a Sunday and Souvenir; the hit musical Always... Patsy Cline; as well as Lobby Hero, Mr. Baily's Minder and The Ugly One, all in Walnut's Studio on 3. Her credits also include No Way To Treat A Lady at the Alpine Theatre Project and Assistant Director for Buddy - The Buddy Holly Story and Good People at the Walnut. Formerly a resident of South Philadelphia, Marcucci held the position of Stage Manager for the Walnut's Mainstage for 18 years during her career.
Playing the role of the tenure-seeking professor, John, is Johnnie Hobbs, Jr. Johnnie has been seen in the Walnut's Independence Studio on 3 in The Other Place (2016) and Driving Miss Daisy (2014). He is currently an Emeritus Associate Professor at the Ira Bring School of Theatre Arts. In 2015, he won the Barrymore Lifetime Achievement Award for his impact both on stage and in the classroom. As an actor, Johnnie has performed at most of Philadelphia major local theaters, including Philadelphia Theatre Company, the Arden, 1812 Productions, the Freedom Theatre, and the Philadelphia Drama Guild. He is a four time Barrymore nominee.
The struggling college student Carol will be played by Jessica Johnson. A former Walnut Street Acting apprentice, Jessica most recently performed as Celie in Theatre Horizon's regional premiere of The Color Purple. Last season, she played Victoria in the Walnut's Independence Studio on 3's production of It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play. Outside of the Walnut, she has performed with Quintessence Theatre Group, Arden Theatre Company, and New Paradise Laboratories.
OLEANNA will take on even more resonance as it will be performed in the Walnut's intimate Independence Studio on 3, where the audience will be just a few feet from the action. Transforming the Independence Studio on 3 into the unassuming yet explosive office of Professor John is Set Designer Roman Tartarowicz (In Between, Tell Me On A Sunday, The Humans). The costumes, reflecting the shift of power throughout the show, will be designed by Rebecca Dwight (It's A Wonderful Life). The sound will be designed by Damien Figueras (It's a Wonderful Life). Lighting Designer Jimmy Lawlor will be making his Walnut Street Theatre debut for OLEANNA.
The 2018-19 sponsor for the Independence Studio on 3 Season is the Independence Foundation. Media season sponsors are Philly Weekly and WRTI Radio. Tickets are $35 and are now available at 215-574-3550 or 800-982-2787. Tickets are also available at walnutstreettheatre.org or Ticketmaster.com.