Review: Oleanna by Bleeding Heart Theatre & Xua Xua Productions
Fifteen minutes after the show, I found myself in argument with a complete stranger.
Oleanna will have that effect.
Written in 1992 by the inimitable David Mamet, the incisive two-hander follows a churning, dynamic power struggle between a university professor and a female student who accuses him of sexual harassment. It is classic Mamet: neither character is quite likeable, neither is quite right, morality exists in shades of grey, and lines unspoken are as telling as those said aloud. In short, it is incredible fodder for reflection and debate.
Director Evan Frayne stages the work in one of Vancouver’s most intimate venues: the backspace at Havana Restaurant. Entering the room, there is an immediate confrontational quality, with the audience sitting around four sides of a raised square platform, not entirely unlike a boxing ring. Carolyn Rapanos’ set design accentuates this adversarial quality, with chairs facing one another head on and open sight lines that showcase the combatants in profile.
A side note: It would be interesting to learn whether those audience members who sat directly behind John or Carol felt greater sympathy or support for their argument, given that Frayne has placed them “in their corner.” One suspects it might be the case.
Anthony F. Ingram’s John is full of pretence and pompous bluster, but not entirely without charm. Ingram possesses an ability to bring great earnestness to even the most cynical roles, which he puts to use here. It’s not enough to fully redeem the character, but it certainly makes him more pitiable as his carefully constructed world begins to crumble. We find ourselves conflicted, feeling terrible that he can not understand why this is happening to him, yet disliking him for the self same reason.
Susie Coodin brings intriguing, confounding complexity to Carol. The source of my post-show debate involved whether she had laid a trap at the onset, with her lack of comprehension and self-deprecation, or whether her latter dogmatic certainty was something gained over the course of the production. Regardless of origin, it is an impressive transformation to watch, growing from meek supplicant to empirical avenger.
More than two decades after its premiere, Oleanna remains a relevant and provoking catalyzer of discourse. While this may not bode well for society and gender relations as a whole, it is good news for those who prefer their theatre to have a little edge.
Go see it with someone you love. And then fight with them.
Oleanna runs until May 17 at Havana Theatre on Commercial Drive.
Tickets are $15 at Eventbrite.ca.