Sunday, January 29, 2012

OLEANNA • HotCity Theatre

HotCity is kicking off their 2012 season with this tense, explosive play written by David Mamet, that will surely leave an impression as you head to your car after the show.

The play begins in the office of John (John Pierson), a college professor, who is meeting with one of his students, Carol (Rachel Fenton).  Carol, meek and self-effacing, has received a failing grade on a paper, and is seeking the help of her rather condescending, smug and verbose professor.  Carol admits that she is having a difficult time understanding John's class, his book, and just about everything he's saying most of the time.  She quotes from her extensive notes and frantically jots down everything he says to her, but she remains overwhelmed by the material, is offended by his assertion that higher education is like "systematic hazing", and thinks she's stupid.  John tries to console Carol by opening up and telling her that he wasn't the best student himself back in the day, but key points during this conversation are interrupted by phone calls from John's wife.  John, who's an inch away from being granted tenure along with a sizable raise, is also getting ready to close on a new high dollar house.  His wife keeps calling about last minute details and wants him to come out to the property.  After numerous interruptions, one coming just as Carol was going to reveal something about herself, John eventually offers to give her an "A" in the course if she would agree to come back to his office for talks about the coursework.  After an innocent hand on the shoulder is quickly shrugged off by Carol, the first act ends.

Rachel Fenton (Carol) and John Pierson (John).
Photos by Todd Studios
The second act reveals a more composed Carol, informing John that the tenure committee is reviewing her recent complaint against him -- accusations of sexual harassment and pornography.  John tries to make Carol understand that he had no ill intentions, but she'll have none of it.  The power starts to shift, and John is freaked out at the prospect of possibly losing his "in-the-bag" tenure.  In a desperate effort, as Carol starts to walk out of the office, John blocks her exit and she screams out for help.

The final scene shows that the arc of these two have completely been switched around.  Carol now wields all of the power, and John seems to be at her mercy.  The way this power swap happens however, is pretty whack.  Political correctness displayed from its worst angle.

John Pierson (John) and Rachel Fenton (Carol).
Photos by Todd Studios
These two characters, these stark representations, don't leave you with many options -- you're a misogynistic pig or an outrageous feminist.  No win.  But food for thought, no doubt.  Interestingly enough, Mamet wrote this play in 1992 -- right after the Clarence Thomas hearings.  Yeah.  Remember him?  Pubic hair on a soda can, anyone?

This play was a bold choice to me, and Annamaria Pileggi's precise direction propels this short three-act from the beginning, with the tension and pauses in all of the right places.  John Pierson was pitch-perfect as the professor who's just a little full of himself, but displays just enough affability to allow us to sympathize with him and the situation he's found himself in at the end.  Rachel Fenton's transformation from the weak powerless one to the calculated contemptible one was a little chilling -- in a good way.  The whole play takes place in John's office, and Lex Von Blommenstein's set served the story well, along with Mark Wilson' lighting design, Scott Breihan's costumes and sound by Michael Perkins.

It's quite a thought provoker that's only playing one more weekend at the Kranzberg.  Check it out and see what you think.


Written by David Mamet
Directed by Annamaria Pileggi
Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand Blvd.
through February 4 | tickets: $20 - $25
Performances Thursday and Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 3pm and 8pm, Sundays at 7pm

John Pierson* (John) and Rachel Fenton (Carol).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Scenic design by Lex Von Blommenstein; lighting design by Mark Wilson; costume design by Scott Breihan; sound design by Michael Perkins; stage manager, Kate Koch.

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