David Mamet’s ‘Oleanna’ – Review

This is the one play that I didn’t even hesitate to purchase. I first saw it on stage in 2011 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, and convinced myself on the bus to purchase the play (which is something I usually didn’t do at the time). Even though the acting and the directing was brilliant, it was the text that really shone through. Hence this review.

I read the play as soon as I received it, and have recommended it to many of my friends. Which is exactly the point of this review. Instead of reviewing the performance, I’m reviewing the text.

David Mamet is an incredibly unique writer, with his text being infamously known as ‘Mamet-speak’. All of his plays have a very unique sense of conversation. I think the best way to sum it up is by a telephone conversation in a Mamet play. (The play opens on this phone call)

JOHN (on phone): And what about the land. (Pause) The land. And what about the land? (Pause) No. I don’t understand. Well, yes, I’m I’m . . . no, I’m sure it’s signif . . . I’m sure it’s significant. (Pause) Because it’s significant to mmmmmm . . . did you call Jerry? (Pause) Because . . . no, no, no, no, no. What did they say . . . ? Did you speak to the real estate . . . where is she . . . ? Well, well, all right. Where are her notes? Where are the notes we took with her. (Pause) I thought you were? No. No, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that, I just thought that I saw you, when we were there . . . what . . . ? I thought I saw you with a pencil. WHY NOW? is what I’m say . . . well, that’s why I say “call Jerry.” Well, I can’t right now, be . . . no I didn’t schedule any . . . Grace: I didn’t . . . I’m well aware . . . Look: Look. Did you call Jerry? Will you call Jerry . . . ? Because I can’t now. I’ll be there, I’m sure I’ll be there in fifteen, in twenty. I intend to. No, we aren’t going to lose the, we aren’t going to lose the house. Look: Look, I’m not minimizing it. The “easement.” Did she say “easement”? (Pause) What did she say; is it a “term of art,” are we bound by it . . . I’m sorry . . . (Pause) are: we: yes. Bound by . . . Look: (He checks his watch.) before the other side goes home, all right? “a term of art.” Because: that’s right (Pause) The yard for the boy.Well, that’s the whole . . . Look: I’m going to meet you there . . . (He checks his watch.) Is the realtor there? All right, tell her to show you the basement again. Look at the this because . . . Bec . . . I’m leaving in, I’m leaving in ten or fifteen . . . Yes. No, no, I’llo meet you at the new . . . That’s a good. If he thinks it’s necc . . . you tell Jerry to meet . . . All right? I’m sure it’s going to be . . . (Pause) I hope so. (Pause) I love you, too. I love you, too. As soon as . . . I will. (He hangs up.)

The play focuses on a student and a teacher, and how misunderstanding can turn into violent chaos. Without giving too much away, the play challenges the relationship between teacher and student. John, who is a professor about to achieve his tenure, is in his office with Carol, a student in John’s class, discussing Carols difficulty with the class. After their first talk, he is hit with a sexual harassment lawsuit. The play goes into a spiral as both characters try to handle the situation, which ultimately leads to a very intense ending.

The play takes place in Johns office and spans three different meetings between the two characters. The set up is quite simple, and is conveyed very easily in the text. It doesn’t demand too much of the readers imagination, but Mamet doesn’t give many details as to what the setting will look like. I like this just because it allows for some more creativity on the reader/director, and allows you to freely interpret how you see the play.

I’ve learnt a lot of my playwriting from David Mamet, whom I consider one of the best playwrights of his time. The first act of the play is very slow, as it is explaining the entire situation as well as giving background to the characters. The second and third act take a completely sharp turn, where there is a lot of energy between the characters. The underlying tension is erupting to the surface, while the characters try to suppress and control it. By the third act, everything is out of control and the struggle for power leads both characters into completely different people. Which leads me to my next point.

The growth of both of the characters is what really makes this play incredibly special. The play is about a struggle for power and control, and what also happens when you lose it. John, being a professor, has the power and the control over the situation. As the play goes on, he begins to lose his power and Carol snatches the control that he’s lost. As they both struggle for the power and control, the real selves of the characters slowly come out.

In conclusion, the play is a very simple, yet deals with a very complex issue. The characters  both come across and realistic, and it is easy to connect with the characters (depending on what side of the argument you’re leaning on). The writing, as with all of Mamets writing, is incredible and captivating. The first act is quite dry, but the second and third acts really make up for it, with the ending being incredibly explosive. I’d definitely suggest you read it, as it has easily become one of my favourite plays.


Now this blog is part of the associate program with Amazon, so if you are interested in purchasing the play please consider going through this link and purchasing! Thank you so much for reading!

Amazon Link – Oleanna: A Play

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