First off, I think I should begin with a disclaimer: I love this play. It’s weird. It’s upsetting. It’s hard to understand. But I love it. In one hour and with two characters, Oleanna gives you a crash course in a subject that playwright David Mamet might call “How to Be Super Profound…profound” (if you read the play, you’ll find that the guy is very fond of repetition, ellipses, italics…and pretty much nothing else). KCDC’s production of the play, directed by Doug Healy ’13, is the senior thesis of Meg Sutter and Harry Hanson.
Oleanna is, in a nutshell, a tale of two assholes. One asshole is a pretentious college professor who despises the very institution he works for, and the other asshole is his angry and misguided student, Carol. Carol goes to her professor’s office to address her struggles with his class, and over the course of three acts depicting three separate visits, the situation quickly escalates into a heated he said/she said over whether or not the professor is guilty of “sexual exploitativeness.” He isn’t, of course. He just said some things that could easily be taken out of context, and chose a really bad time to touch Carol’s shoulder. But Carol makes it clear that she’s fighting not for herself, but for what she believes to be the greater good, and the lines between right and wrong get more and more blurred as the play goes on.
It’s important to mention that Sutter and Hanson have not chosen an easy play to perform as a senior thesis. In fact, it might’ve been easier to memorize the Bible and recite it in iambic pentameter. Most of the dialogue is some sort of interjection, meaning the two characters are constantly speaking over each other, and they spit out enough academic jargon to make you want to drop out of Kenyon and become a farmer. Sutter and Hanson do and excellent job with these aspects of the play, giving urgency to the fast-paced dialogue and making you think that they really believe in it as well. However, at times I felt like they were struggling to understand not what they were saying, but why they were saying it. In David Mamet’s plays, especially this one, every word repetition, interjection, or offhand remark is there for a reason, and it’s the actor/director’s job to figure out what that reason is.
The set, which is your typical professor’s office, stays pretty much the same throughout the play. The only change comes in the third act, when the professor learns he’s been suspended, and the office is suddenly filled with the sad white boxes that we all associate with lost jobs. I particularly liked the music played between acts, which added dramatic tension to a play that’s already about as tense as they come. As a director, Healy is right to keep things simple, because I wouldn’t have wanted anything to draw my attention away from the wonderful acting going on onstage.
The second and final performance of Oleanna will be at 8:00 p.m. tonight, in the Hill Theater. Student tickets are $2.