Preview article for David Mamet's "Oleanna"

Article by Gail M. Burns, September 1999

The former Manic Stage at 55 Main Street has new management, new seats, new window dressing, and, on October 8, they will launch their premier season with a new production of David Mamet's "Oleanna".

"We're hoping that North Adams will really give us some support with this production," said Spencer Trova, Artistic Director of Main Street Stage and co-director of "Oleanna", "We were really heartened by the attendance at our last Manic Stage show, 'Apartment 3A', and our staged reading of Eric Rudd's 'Wet Paint' was sold out. With our new, comfier seats and improved sightlines we hope to attract and retain a strong audience for this dark drama."

The newly christened Main Street Stage is now under the leadership Trova and Bruce MacDonald, Managing Director, who will appear in "Oleanna". Joel Greenberg of the now defunct Berkshire Public Theatre in Pittsfield has donated that facilities theatre seating, which Trova and MacDonald have been transporting and installing all during the hectic rehearsal period. Main Street Stage has filed all the necessary papers and are waiting to be officially designated a non-profit organization so that they can begin fund raising efforts.

"We met with Mayor Barrett and he is very supportive of our work," Trova said, "We have joined the North Berkshire Chamber of Commerce and look forward to working closely with them."

"Oleanna" is a good choice for the narrow stage space at Main Street. A two person play by Pulitzer prize winning playwright David Mamet, "Oleanna" looks at a charge of sexual harassment made by a student, Carol, against her college professor, John. The audience gets to witness the incident that leads Carol to make her charge, and then to see the characters as they deal with the situation afterwards. Mamet leaves the conflict ambiguous on purpose, and neither John nor Carol is clearly in the right or in the wrong.

"John and Carol are really two damaged children who have found refuge in their own individual dogmas" said MacDonald who is playing John,"This play really shows how we as humans interpret the behavior of others through the screen which we create."

"The text of the play is only a fraction of the plot," Trova said, "Much of the characters action and motivation takes place below the surface, which is what makes the play so powerful."

For that reason both MacDonald and Stephanie Saunders who plays Carol found learning their lines to be a real challenge. MacDonald's John is frequently interrupted by phone calls, which breaks the flow of conversation between him and Carol, and Carol is withdrawn in the play's first act.

"I find that Carol really blew up into something bigger than I thought she would be," said Saunders, "I am still working to figure her out. She has very low self-esteem and I think she has probably been disappointed by all the authority figures in her life, which is why she has never lived up to any expectations of herself. In the end she is not focused on herself at all, but on the group where she has found support and on their ideology."

Universal themes of power, envy, and working within systems with unclear boundaries run under the overlying structure of the sexual harassment charge. Carol makes it clear that her feelings and John's feelings aren't what is important - its the act itself. John tries to gain Carol's sympathies by pointing out the frailties of the human condition.

"Oleanna" runs Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through November 14 at the Main Street Stage, 55 Main Street, North Adams. Opening night on October 8 will include a wine and cheese gala, and there will be a special Monday performance on Columbus Day, October 11. A discussion period with the cast will follow each performance. Curtain time for all shows is 8 PM. Call the Main Street Stage box office at 413-663-3240 for tickets and information.

copyright Gail M. Burns, 1999

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