Oleanna Leaves Some in Tears on Opening Night

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oleanna

Post Productions is a new theatrical company in Windsor that promises to offer thought-provoking content which will challenge conventions, habits and assumptions by staging productions that leave audiences compelled to think, discuss, and debate. The choice to use David Mamet’s 1992 play Oleanna as its first production lived up to those expectations and kicked off what will certainly be a new avenue for exploration, not of just of sights and sound, but of the mind as well (I may owe royalties to Rod Serling for that last little bit).

Oleanna is not your typical theatre fare. If you’re looking for a musical version of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air or something lighthearted like that, you’ve bought yourself the wrong ticket. It’s essentially a conversation between two people over three acts and it will strike your emotions.

In the first act we meet John, a quirky and often obnoxious professor on the brink of getting a prestigious tenure, and Carol, one of John’s students who is failing his class and can’t seem to grasp its concept. We’re not sure where this conversation is going except that John has offered to personally coach Carol because he’s intrigued.

In the second act, we quickly come to realize that John’s actions were interpreted as sexual, physical and mental harassment and he’s now losing his tenure as Carol explains why she brought the issue forward to the school board.

In the third and final act, we find John packing his bags as he prepares to vacate his office after being fired. It seems Carol took things further and the show climaxes in a fit of anger and chaos.

It was interesting to see Carol transform from shy and meek to one of power and control, while John went from cocky and obnoxious to eventually bursting with physical anger. Power is an interesting concept and the transfer of power from one person to another is not something to be taken lightly. It can be used for positive improvements or it can be utilized for personal gain and ego. Depending on the message someone got out the show, it could have been either.

Fay Lynn was really powerful as Carol. She gave the role a nerdy beginning and by the end extended so much power that the shift felt uncomfortable and awkward – exactly how it was written to play out. There were elements in her performance that either made members of the audience cry or shake with anger, depending on the point of view they saw from the scene. When the show was over, I passed a young woman from the audience who was in the street – she had an emotional outbreak at her car and was sobbing and weak in the hands of her friend.

Michael Potter (who is also co-producer and co-director) looked the role of a stressed University professor and played it well and then he broke out in a fit of rage, which was so pent-up and charged, you couldn’t help but hope Lynn wasn’t actually caught in it in any way. He literally went psycho. Hats off for making that fit of rage feel so real and scary. It must have been an exhausting scene to do.

In 2009, Oleanna was acted out by Bill Pullman and Julia Stiles in New York, but I would venture to guess it wasn’t as intimate as this production in the charming SHŌ – art, Spirit & Performance theatre, which served as the perfect venue for a University professors office.

The magic of Oleanna is that it is supposed to be the flame that starts a conversational fire. I’m not sure what others in the audience felt, except for that young woman in the street, but for me it was uncomfortable watching the power shift from John to Carol, not because Carol didn’t deserve to be a strong self-confident woman, but more because it felt like she purposely planned to take John out as a target. She took notes about his actions and phone messages right from the start, egged him on in the second act, advised us she met with others who felt the same as her, and by the end was dictating to John what he should or shouldn’t nickname his wife.

Post Productions is off to a fine start, but Oleanna isn’t everyone’s cup of Iced Blonde Almondmilk Vanilla Latte. Be prepared to think and offer an opinion.

Oleanna runs this weekend at SHO: Art, Spirit and Performance (628 Monmouth). Tickets are $20 at the door. It is produced and directed by Michael O’Reilly and Micahel Potter with set paintings by Nora Franko.

Photo from Post Productions Facebook page, photographed by Martin Ouellette, of Churchwood Pictures.