Issues of sexism portrayed well in ‘Oleanna’

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    By PHILIP M. VAN DIJK

    Those who go to Provo Theater Company’s production of “Oleanna,” which runs now through May 4, in search of some light dialogue and quirky twists of plot are going to be disappointed. But those who go for some of the greatest cutting-edge drama and thought-provoking dialogue ever scripted will be fascinated.

    The drama begins in the office of a college professor in the early fall. The professor, John (Carl Belliston) is discussing with his student Carol (Celesta Davis) her grade in the class. Carol is upset about her poor grade and John is trying to explain to her why he gave her the grade he did. In the process, she takes what he says out of context and begins twisting the meaning of his words. Where John feels he is sincerely trying to help Carol in her pursuit for knowledge, Carol misconstrues the meaning, feeling manipulated and violated by sexist remarks and unfair treatment.

    In the next act we find that Carol has pressed charges and filed a formal complaint to the Tenure Committee, jeopardizing John’s job. The plot continues to intensify in completely unexpected ways as the battle between what John actually said and what Carol understands — or claims to understand — becomes more and more critical.

    This play can best be described as theater of the immediate. The dialogue engages the audience and makes it think. Magnetic and riveting, it draws the audience in quickly because it can relate to what is being said. It is especially interesting for college students, because it covers the topic of higher education and public schools. John asks in the beginning of the play “what is higher education good for?” and states education is just “a long and systematic hazing.” At one point, John asks Carol why he should put his son in public schools. “Why should I try to improve the public schools at the expense of my own children?” he asks.

    The way words are used in this play displays how complex the English language is and how versatile the meanings attached to words can be.

    “Oleanna” is reminiscent of the classic movie “My Dinner With Andre.” There are only two characters and the entire play is based on the intellectual conversation that transpires between the two. Because the play is based almost solely on dialogue, it took some creativity to put the set together. Steve Patterson and Russ Richards did a great job of enhancing the symbolism of the play by working with the symbols of the set and stage.

    Tilting the stage floor sharply toward the audience, the stage manager (Patterson) has provided a medium in which the blocking of the characters can be seen clearly by the audience in an exaggerated way. The symbolic movement of one character upstaging another exhibits the power one has over the other.

    The floor also rifts in the middle more and more in each act, symbolizing the schism between the two characters.

    Filling the garbage can with more and more trash as the play goes on is another subtle way that the scenic designer (Richards) exhibits to the audience how complex and cluttered the understanding of the two characters has become.

    Celesta Davis performed the second act of “Oleanna” at BYU on the Nelke stage three years ago, so she is a seasoned veteran at this piece and portrays well the perpetually disconcerted and upset Carol.

    Carl Belliston is intense and complete. His emotional rage and anger prove his ability as an actor. He is powerful and compelling.

    The audience is left to choose sides and question what it believes to be right at the end of the play.

    The language has been toned down considerably from the actual script. David Mamet is known for harsh language and crude phrases in his scripts and the wording has been altered a little.

    “Oleanna” is being presented by the Daily Herald and the Provo Theatre Company, at 105 East 100 North. Tickets are $12.50 and $15, but BYU students can get two-for-one tickets by clipping the coupon in some issues of The Daily Universe. Curtain time is 8 p.m. Tickets are available through PTC box office, 6-9 p.m. Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, or by calling 379-0600.

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