Anthony F. Ingram and Susie Coodin in the Bleeding Heart Theatre and Xua Xua Productions presentation of Oleanna. Photo by Graham Ockley.
Anthony F. Ingram and Susie Coodin in the Bleeding Heart Theatre and Xua Xua Productions presentation of Oleanna. Photo by Graham Ockley.

F$ck you, David Mamet.

[pullquote]Oleanna has the ability to get under your skin like a bloody bruise. Theatre should do that more often.[/pullquote]That a play could illicit such a reaction is a credit to the production of Mamet’s incendiary Oleanna, currently on stage at the Havana Theatre.

This is a play about words and director Evan Frayne knows it. Trapped inside the confines of John’s small university office, he uses movement sparingly and takes to heart Mamet’s own belief that “there is no character” and “there are only lines upon the page”. Ensuring his actors, Anthony F Ingram and Susie Coodin, are focused on the essential action, Frayne effectively allows the conflict to resonate on both sides, a resonance that is at times dizzying over the play’s relatively short 80 minutes.

Much is made of Oleanna having been written over twenty years ago, a time where we were only beginning to see some of the extremes of political correctness that we do today. The problem with pigeonholing Oleanna to that specific time overlooks the issue of place as well. It is no secret that university life is a bubble, an artificial microcosm of society that thrives on pushing the status quo, and not always for the greater good. Where Mr Mamet may have intended an exploration of political correctness run amok, it is difficult to ignore the equally damning examination of the artifice that is created inside academia. By cleverly keeping the “group” that Carol continues to insist she represents a mystery, Mamet leaves it open for his audience to draw their own conclusions: is it indeed political correctness to an extreme or a university student looking to exploit the system for her own benefit?

Besides being one of the best uses of the Havana’s black box space in recent memory, there is a tension that is immediately created between actor and audience with set designer Carolyn Rapanos’s in-the-round set. Evocative of a boxing ring, Frayne and Rapano edge us to the ropes, but keep us just far enough away that we can see almost every blow.  And while Ingram and Coodin successfully land their blows, Mamet leaves it to the audience to decide who delivered the knockout.

Oleanna has the ability to get under your skin like a bloody bruise. Theatre should do that more often.

Oleanna by David Mamet.  A Bleeding Heart Theatre & Xua Xua Productions presentation.  On stage at the Havana Theatre through May 17.  Visit http://www.bleedinghearttheatre.com for tickets and information.