Molly Lowson’s interpretation of David Mamet’s realist play Oleanna is an emotionally nuanced and skillful retelling of a tale of crossed wires and emotional destruction. Produced by the KTS, and taking place in the Red Room-turned-professor’s-office, it brings to light the impact of small misunderstandings that are borne from the inability for two individuals to communicate across differing personal paradigms.
Oleanna details the relationship between Carol (Dylan Tate-Howarth), a confused student, and John (Tom Lute), her academia-steeped professor. Mamet’s script, dotted with ellipses, allows for a realistic and over-lapping exchange between the two characters. Somewhere in their conversation John’s intentions are misinterpreted. Their ensuing conversations lead the play to a climactic ending that leaves the audience left to wonder if guilt or innocence can be easily ascribed to either of the characters.
Tate-Howarth skillfully manages to transition from the frenetic and confused Carol of Act I, to the self-confident Carol of Act II, to the volatile and once-again confused Carol of Act III. Tate-Howarth’s noticeable character-based mannerisms narrate Carol’s journey and provide a reference point to her insecurities. She brings a subtle dynamism to a character that is easy to dislike, and gives Carol the innocence that makes her vulnerable to both misunderstanding and manipulation.
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Lute deftly communicates John’s disintegration through the play, starting with a confident academic and ending as a wrecked man asking the question of ‘Why?’ – the same posed to him in Act I by Carol. His confidence in Act I, as a professor on the tenure track and in the process of buying a house, is deeply contrasted with his unraveling in Act III. Lute brings out a nuanced understanding to the life of a beleaguered academic – a credit to his focused study of character.
Together, they clearly denote the shifting balance of power between Carol and John. Their intentional lack of chemistry, in Act I, effectively contrasts with their tense and close exchange in Act III that leads up to a climactic ending. Their costumes also reflected this power shift. John Maize’s fight choreography seemed under-rehearsed, but was performed with enough conviction to be effective.
This production of Oleanna introduces the audience to a situation where the lines between innocence and guilt are blurred, or perhaps don’t exist at all. Though Lowson could have interpreted this play as a basic Adam and Eve power struggle, or sided more firmly with one character, she instead creates a more subtle scenario, where power is passed around and misused to the detriment of both characters. The devastation of the play is found in the inability for the characters to stop, listen and understand each other. The result is brilliant and impactful.
Congratulations to the cast and crew of Oleanna on a powerfully moving production that leaves the audience to question their own, perhaps instinctual, interpretation of the play.