Mamet’s “Oleanna” Leads Off Hot City Theatre’s New Season

Solid performances and strong direction make “Oleanna” a winner as Hot City Theatre begins another season. This David Mamet script has been praised and vilified in the past but at least it raises some interesting questions.

Rachel Fenton and John Pierson star in David Mamet's "Oleanna" at Hot City Theatre through February 5th.

Despite the herky-jerky quality of Mamet’s dialogue throughout a lot of the script, the issues raised in this three-scene one-act are startling at first, then thought-provoking as the evening comes to a very unexpected and unsettling finale. What appears to be vindictive actions by a young student by accusing her professor of sexual harassment and later rape, may have more far-reaching implications on the behavior of the faculty-student relationship.

What most people would perceive as an innocent dialogue during the first scene of “Oleanna” as the male professor attempts to reassure his female student that she will not fail his course, takes on a more ominous tone as we hear her accusations during the second scene and then explode during the provocative final showdown. The professor is fighting for his tenure, his wife, his new home, the prestige of his book and, quite literally, his life. What has the student to lose? That becomes the underlying question during this academic game of cat and mouse.

Two stellar performances punctuate Mamet’s script. John Pierson is rock-solid as John, the perplexed professor. His utterance of the words that opened the play as said by the student, “I don’t understand,” are compelling as we see a complete reversal of roles toward play’s end. One of the most promising young actresses on St. Louis stages today is Rachel Fenton. She proves once again, as the young college student, that she’s got real talent in the diverse roles she’s tackled in the last several months. As Carol, she shows a wide range as she moves from mousy to devious in the blink of an eye. Is there a hidden agenda in her actions? That’s what moves her performance beyond the ordinary.

Director Annamaria Pileggi captures the right amount of tension and leaves us trying to answer the myriad of questions that this David Mamet script produces. The nice Lex Van Blommestein set design adds to the drama as do the lights of Mark Wilson. The raucous sounds of the Norwegian folk song, “Oleanna,” as performed by the great Theodore Bikel and Geula Gill ring through the house before the curtain and during scene changes to remind us of the futility of dreaming big dreams that are built on sand.

Catch the stellar production of Mamet’s “Oleanna” through February 4th at Hot City Theatre at the Kranzberg Art Center. Call 314-289-4063 or visit them at http://www.hotcitytheatre.org for tickets or more information.

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2 Responses to “Mamet’s “Oleanna” Leads Off Hot City Theatre’s New Season”

  1. william Says:

    Theodore Bikel is alive and well, not late…but great!

    • Steve Allen Says:

      Thank you, William- I have changed my error and I apologize for “killing” Mr. Bikel. I’m not sure who I was thinking of when I wrote the review but I really should have checked my facts before printing it. I was just so sure he had died. Still love him from the original “Sound Of Music” and he was probably the best Tevye next to Zero. Anyway, thanks again and I’ll see you at “Killer Joe.”…Steve

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