The Birmingham Stage Company is the resident company of the Old Rep Theatre. Its patrons are Sir Derek Jacobi and Paul Scofield. The company is unfounded and relies mainly on box office income. Company productions include Speed-The-Plow by David Mamet, The Crucible by Arthur Miller and The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams. The present production by The Birmingham Stage Company is David Mamet’s “Oleanna”. David Mamet is a contemporary writer well known for his shocking and controversial plays.
While “Oleanna” doesn’t have Mamet’s infamous swearing, it does pack all the other Mamet traits; realistic, “ping pong” dialogue and lots of conflict. There are only two people in the play, John Neal Foster and Carol Sophie Bold. John is a university professor his subject is not clear, although one would assume he teaches psychology. Carol is his failing student who he offers to talk to and help her understand his subject. Carol’s background is unclear and gets more so as the play progresses.Order now
In the first “session” John uses a number of examples to try to get what he is saying across to Carol who is still struggling to understand. Each time John starts to get somewhere with Carol the telephone rings and interrupts what he is trying to say. That is how act one ends with Carol about to say something which could determine the outcome of the play but is interrupted by the telephone. In act two the relationship between the two characters is totally different to what it was in act one.
The act opens with John and Carol in the office again, however the ambience is a lot less relaxed and we soon find out that Carol has lodged a complaint to the university tenure committee because she thinks John to be elitist, hypocritical and she accuses him of sexual harassment. When act three opens John is accused of rape and Carol is trying to get his book banned. When Carol tells John that she is trying to ban his book, this as this is the final straw because she is trying to take away the only thing that he believes in anymore and he ends the play by beating Carol up.
All of the action takes place over about month. We don’t actually see the action, more the aftermath of it. “Oleanna” has many themes but the most poignant are sexual harassment, political correctness and power. John gives an example of his “elitist” attitude when he gives talks about the sexual behaviour of the Rich and poor. He starts by saying, “A college friend once told me that poor people copulate more then rich people do, but rich people take more of their cloths offâ€¦” Carol interprets this as elitism. Again John displays power when he continuously finishes off Carol’s sentences in the first act.
Carol strives for political correctness when she seeks Justice for what John has done. Director John Harrison made the set simple because of the budget and for effect. He does add one symbolic twist, there is a mock tree in the background and in the first act a rich, golden light is cast upon it; this is in contrast to the atmosphere and how John is feeling. At the beginning of act two the light has changed to a dark green and this again symbolises John’s feelings, the atmosphere and the hostile intentions Carol has for John.
In act three the light cast upon the tree is a very dark blue and this symbolises the throbbing hatred John has for Carol. Also the only other lighting in act three was an overhead strip light which gives the feeling of an interrogation room. Harrison also used a raked stage with a small wharf at the end, which was not raked. The raked sage was used so the audience could see better and the seating arrangement was quite steep which made the audience’s view even better. Another method used by Harrison was to change John’s appearance in each act. In act one John is dressed smartly.
He is wearing a suite with a tie and smart shoes. In the second act John appears scruffier with messy hair and he was without his jacket, his tie was loosened and he was also wearing casual shoes. In the third act he was without his tie, his sleeves were rolled up and his hair was a complete mess. There were differences in Carol’s dress not much in the third scene but in the first scene Carol was wearing a short skirt and a T-shirt. In the second scene Carlo wore a long skirt. This made her look more formal even though it wasn’t particularly formal.