By David Mamet
Directed by John DiDonna
Empty Spaces Theater Company in Association with Riverton Playground Theatre
Orlando Shakespeare Center, Orlando FL
Professor John (Dennis Neal) teaches doublespeak at Anonymous U and is up for tenure. His student Carol (Trennel Mooring) majors in Whining with a minor in PC, and when she has some academic problems, she comes to see the prof. It’s never clear what the academic issue is, but she bought his book and can’t make sense of it and he won’t refund the price. The phone keeps ringing and neither lets the other finish a sentence and while he’s an arrogant jerk, he doesn’t seem to do anything actionably illegal. Carol thinks otherwise, and by Act Two she’s filed a harassment complaint and John’s career looks pretty wobbly. At this point, any reasonable lawyer would tell him to keep away for Carol, but he tries to charm her out of the complaint and instead gets a lecture on his arrogance, and ultimately a charge of attempted rape. While Carol may be academically weak, she knows the value of keeping good notes.
Like all good Mamet, everyone on stage encapsulates the worst in human interaction. Neal’s professor is smug and arrogant, flashing his soon-to-be-tenured status with a new house near a private school in the face of his student. Mooring’s Carol is sullen and dangerous with the look of a street thug in her eye as she gambles her hard won college entrance against a charge of sexism and elitism and “Who-do-you-think-you-are-ism?” There are glimmers of pity for the professor, but only glimmers, and while Carol has a technical case against him you wonder “Why is she in college?” and “What does she think she’ll gain?”
The brutal intensity of Oleanna bleeds down in the two longish intermissions, but this is a nasty story about two nasty people and the herculean struggle of an underclass to change the no longer relevant ways of an over class. The ashen bitterness of the argument will stay with you long after you leave the theater, just as the battle scars of Oleanna will remain with Professor John and Ms. Carol. It’s a classic academic fight – blood and guts everywhere, and if you aren’t in the system, you’ll never clearly understand what that battle was all about.
For more information on Empty Spaces Theater Company, visit http://www.emptyspacestheatre.org