BWW Review: Accusations and Exposés in the Power Play of OLEANNA at The Fugard

BWW Review: Accusations and Exposés in the Power Play of OLEANNA at The Fugard

"We can only interpret the behavior of others through the screen we create."

Divided into three acts, OLEANNA centers on the daily meetings and subsequent conversations between a verbose university professor John (Alan Committie) and his frustrated, failing student Carol (Nicole Fortuin). As accusations fly and tensions heighten, this unpredictable drama explores issues of language, political correctness, sexual harassment, and more.

Originally debuted in the early 90s, OLEANNA is written by Pulitzer Prize winner David Mamet and is set in the close quarters of John's university office. Despite the play's distant initial release, the themes exposed remain (even more) relevant in the 21st century. One comes to realize over the hour and a half that there are some interactions between the two characters not seen, leaving the audience to fill in their own blanks and choose their own sides. But as the poster says, "Whoever you choose... You're wrong".

Both characters are very well represented and relatable (even when you don't want BWW Review: Accusations and Exposés in the Power Play of OLEANNA at The Fugardthem to be). Committie's portrayal of a self-entitled, academic figure whose constant need to prove the incredible vastness of his lexicon transported me right back to university Philosophy lectures. One almost breathes a sigh of relief when Carol calls him out on his unnecessarily constant use of scholastic jargon. Committie stays true to his character throughout as John shrinks and grows in his position during his discourse with a student.

Similarly, Fortuin takes one on a reactionary rollercoaster. What starts off as an empathetic student becomes increasingly frustrating - and back again. Watching Fortuin's progression of her character over the three acts is one of the most engaging aspects of the play. The visible growth in confidence through her physical and vocal characterization leaves the Carol in Act I almost unrecognizable from the Carol in Act III.

The skill in both characters' developments subtly draws one into the world of OLEANNA. Despite the fact that the beginning act felt slightly forced, this can be interpreted as skillful when it is considered that an initial one-on-one meeting between an authoritative figure and (essentially) his subordinate is not a natural thing. Through Carol's fumbling and John's interruptions, one almost wants to roll the eyes at the languish of their conversation - only for it to spark flames as the play goes on.

BWW Review: Accusations and Exposés in the Power Play of OLEANNA at The Fugard

Director Greg Karvellas once again demonstrates his skill in taking every beat of OLEANNA into account. His use of stage space and levels with only two characters to work with shows that he has approached Mamet's play with careful consideration towards direction. A particularly interesting choice was the use of American accents, rather than transporting the text to a South African context to make it more relatable for the local audience. Assuming this was to stay true to the original narrative, the choice could also be interpreted as a distancing of the play's subject from the audience; as similarly one wants to do with the characters themselves.

Special mention also goes to Chris Pienaar for his set design. Coupled with the action on stage, the incredibly detailed set of John's office draws one so deep into OLEANNA that one almost feels like an intruder at parts, rather than a spectator.

As my partner noted walking away from the play, there's nothing "feel good" about OLEANNA. The good in this topical drama comes from its well directed and excellently portrayed stimulating and speculative subject matter; making it stay with you long after curtain call.

Photo credit: Claude Barnardo

OLEANNA will be presented in the Fugard Studio Theatre from 14 September for a limited season. It will be performed on Tuesday to Saturdays at 8pm with a matinee on Saturdays at 3pm. Sunday performances will be presented from Sunday 30 September at 3pm. Tickets from R150 are available directly through the Fugard Theatre box office on 021 461 4554 or online at PLEASE NOTE: OLEANNA carries an age restriction of 16 for mature content and violence.

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From This Author Lindsay Kruger

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