September 25, 2012
BY: NICOLA MACLEOD
The Black Box Theatre was packed with a tense, wide-eyed audience griping their chairs during Theatre New Brunswick’s production of David Mamet’s Oleanna. Director Alisa Palmer brings down the divide between actors and audience and exploits the changing dynamic of the professor-student relationship from beginning to end.
Carol (Natalie Roy) is the assertive and struggling student seeking help from John (Shawn Wright), her conceded professor up for tenure. Over the course of their first meeting, John boasts and lectures Carol on her poor grades in his course and Carol presses John to reveal information about his personal life. When a touch is misinterpreted, John’s tenure is on unstable ground. His world is overturned by Carol, who has expanded into the role of the seemingly vindictive feminazi, a radical feminist driven by her hatred of men.
Roy and Wright zestfully bring Mamet’s script to life. Wright cockily engages the audience and consistently shapes John as the victim. Roy makes the most she can of Mamet’s immoral and inhuman character, whose confidence and comfort change drastically between acts. The actors complimented well, though there is the impression the chemistry is forced at times.
The production is part of Next Stage, one of four Theatre New Brunswick branches, whose goal is to bring plays to small studio venues.
Oleanna succeeds to do so in St. Thomas University’s Black Box Theatre. The entire production takes place in the confines of John’s office. The audience is seated at eye-level with the set, creating an interactive atmosphere with simple but planned lighting and 270 degree seating. The proximity allows the spectators to occasionally catch a sparkle of light reflecting off the eyes of the players and instills the uneasy feeling they are invading on private conversations between professor and student.
It was a bold move of Theatre New Brunswick to stage the controversial, campus-set production in a university theatre, but as usual, they pull it off illustriously.
Theatre New Brunswick’s Oleanna played at the Black Box Theatre from September 20th – 23rd.