- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 16, 2002

"Oleanna" is quite possibly David Mamet's most anti-woman play no mean feat considering the gallery of heartless and manipulative harpies who populate other works such as his "Cryptogram" and "Sexual Perversity in Chicago."

Still, director Wendy C. Goldberg manages to make this story of a perceived-victim-turned-victimizer palatable absorbing, even in a Source Theatre production.

Carol (Holly Twyford), a confused college student struggling for survival in one of her classes, stops by her professor's office hoping to have it all explained.

Her professor, John (Rick Foucheux), is engrossed in a phone call, trying to work out the problems of buying a new house.

She stands there quietly uncomfortable, and he hardly acknowledges her. Even after he gets off the phone he sits down at his desk and sorts papers, waiting for her to speak. It's not unlike a king willing to hear out a supplicant.

Carol, tongue-tied with uncertainty, seems as if she's working just to get her sentences out coherently.

Curt and condescending, John is every self-inflated bookworm who's ever rented space in an ivory tower, but ultimately, John's a teacher good-hearted, if a bit of a blowhard and despite his appointment with his wife and the real estate agent, he gets swept up in trying to help Carol.

Maybe he genuinely wants her to learn, or maybe he is intrigued by the chance to transform this dull-minded student, or maybe he fancies himself a maverick in the world of academia. The strength of Miss Goldberg's direction and the performances are what make this slippery game of speculating about motives so engaging.

The timing between Miss Twyford and Mr. Foucheux is marvelous: He certain in his superiority frequently interrupts her; she gets angry and demands that he listen. What started out as a lesson becomes a dialogue.

John explains to Carol that he tries to connect on a personal level with his students. He understands her and her feelings of inferiority, he says, because he also was told he was stupid when he was younger. You believe yourself to be what people say you are, he tells her.

So they hash over what's been covered in class and what he's written in his book, which assails higher education and questions the usefulness of college. It does become personal, and John's words and gestures leave room for misinterpretation if someone were inclined to misinterpret them.

Then John abruptly ends their student-teacher conference after he gets a call telling him he has to come home there's a surprise party to celebrate the impending announcement of his tenure.

In the second act, Carol who has joined a women's group of sorts (although she always just refers to it as "my group") has reconsidered John's motives for helping her.

She has made over her campus schlump look: the jeans, sweatshirt, sneakers and canvas backpack have been replaced by a smart outfit and a more professional-looking bag. Gone, too, is Carol's vaguely sympathetic and dazed demeanor. She has become the strident mouthpiece for her insidious group, tossing out words such as "patriarch" and "empowered."

The roles have shifted, and John, desperate to understand, pleads for an explanation.

Mr. Foucheux, who was so explosive in Source Theatre's production of Mr. Mamet's "American Buffalo" last year, is convincing as a man who watches his life spiraling away from him.

Miss Twyford does a very good job of making Carol more than the dreaded feminist monster she might have been



WHAT: "Oleanna"

WHERE: Source Theatre Company, 1835 14th St. NW

WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. No performance March 30 at 3 p.m. Through April 7

TICKETS: General admission, $25; students and seniors, $20

PHONE: 202/462-1073


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