'Oleanna' generates dispute and indignation

Gordon Jones
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Fresh from wrapping up the fifth season of "The Republic of Doyle," Krystin Pellerin and Steve O’Connell are currently featuring in David Mamet’s "Oleanna," a play that sparked controversy when it opened in 1992 and which is still capable of generating dispute and indignation.

The two-handed piece focuses tightly on the charged relationship between a seemingly artless female college student and her initially aloof male professor (with an unseen wife on the other end of the telephone line in his office).

It starts innocently enough, with the student seeking academic help and advice. Blonde and lissome, she is shy, timid, and crestfallen over her academic performance. The progressive  and loquacious professor warms to her,

While she becomes increasingly distraught., she seems like a kitten; she turns into a man-eating tiger, entrapping and denouncing him with escalating allegations of elitism, sexism, sexual harassment and, ultimately, attempted rape.

There is no happy ending to this dramatic scenario. His tenure application is denied and he is dismissed from his position when she files charges against him. And, the moral of this educational fable? How about the cardinal rule of academic advising: never, ever, ever close your office door with a student inside with you?

Directed by Danielle Irvine, this coup de theatre is superbly played by Pellerin and O’Connell. Directing this twosome must be a real privilege.

The large opening-night audience, a number of whom are themselves educators, were wowed by the provocative script. And no doubt here about a standing ovation, acknowledging exemplary performance by two masterful actors thoroughly inhabiting their roles.

David Mamet’s "Oleanna" continues until Saturday in the Barbara Barrett Theatre of the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre. With no intermission, the running time of this must-see show is a brisk and intense 80 minutes.

Organizations: Barbara Barrett Theatre

Geographic location: Republic of Doyle

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