David Mamet’s ‘Oleanna’ is a fight to the finish

Posted on Fri, Feb. 03, 2012
The Kansas City Star

Somewhere along the line, boxing became an old man’s sport, a fastidious style of combat designed to follow rules about where and when you could hit the other guy and reduce the level of carnage.

It was supplanted by cage fighting, where looser rules allow a much higher level of mayhem inside the octagon.

And in cage fighting we happen to find the perfect metaphor for David Mamet’s “Oleanna,” a two-character duel in a book-lined office that remains within the emotional-psychological realm until the last moments, when it gets physical with a vengeance.

Lauren Friedlander and David Fritts (Paul Andrews Photography/The Living Room)

Recently I dug out my review of the 1992 off-Broadway production with William H. Macy and Rebecca Pidgeon to revisit my first impression of the piece. I, like many others, was struck by the intensity of the conflict, the desperate battle for dominance that played itself out against the still-churning wake of the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings, in which Anita Hill accused a nominee to the Supreme Court of sexual harassment.

“Mamet’s artistic home turf is the gray zone of moral ambiguity,” I wrote at the time, “and in this two-character examination of sexual enmity he offers complicated conflicts for which there are no easy answers or painless resolutions. Buttons will be pushed, and some people, by virtue of their gender, may instinctively take sides in the white-hot struggle for dominance unfolding onstage.”

The Living Room, after reshuffling its spring lineup of shows, is now about to open a new production of the piece, featuring the estimable David Fritts as John, a college professor who runs afoul of his own arrogant assumptions and sense of entitlement, and relative newcomer Lauren Friedlander as Carol, a student who discovers that it’s within her power to engineer his downfall. Read the full review at kansascity.com.

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