Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Oleanna: You've Come A Long Way Baby

Oleanna: You’ve Come A Long Way Baby

Seventeen years after first premiering at David Mamet’s Back Bay Theatre Company (Cambridge, MA), the playwright’s short-use drama Oleanna is making its debut on Broadway.

Short? Its running time is among the briefest of plays, clocking in at mere 75 minutes. Fuse? Oleanna has been described as akin to a powder keg being ignited. And that's just in the audience.

In Oleanna, Mamet weaves a two-hander tale of a haughty college professor named John, who sexually harasses Carol, one of his female students. Or has he?

That is the long-burning argument audiences have been debating over this highly controversial work ever since Oleanna first premiered with frequent Mamet collaborator William H. Macy facing off with Rebecca Pidgeon, initially in Cambridge and then Off-Broadway in 1992. It’s no accident that the play first appeared in the wake of the incendiary confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in which Anita Hill’s explosive testimony nearly ended his high court aspirations.

If you’re wondering about the unusual name of the play, Oleanna is the name of a Norwegian folk song about a 19th Century couple -- Ole Bull and Anna (thus, Oleanna) -- who set out to create a utopian community, but whose dream had not counted on rocky and infertile soil.

Doug Hughes helms this first Broadway production of Oleanna with Bill Pullman as John and Julia Stiles as Carol. While both are reprising their roles from Los Angeles’ Mark Taper Forum, Stiles has the longer history with the piece, having appeared in an earlier 2004 West End production in which she co-starred with Aaron Eckhart under Lindsay Posner’s direction.

Oleanna begins previews tonight at Broadway’s John Golden Theatre and opens there October 11. I'll wade into the fray with my own SOB Review shortly thereafter.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

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