March 29-31, 8:00 p.m.,
March 31, April 1 2:00 p.m., 8:00 p.m.
Winthrop House Library
Directed by Rachel V. Byrd ’13
Produced by Aly G. Martinez ’13
If you visit the Winthrop House Library one evening this weekend, don’t expect to get much studying done. Instead, prepare for what promises to be a night of captivating drama as the Harvard Radcliffe Dramatic Society presents David Mamet’s “Oleanna.”
The 1992 play, originally staged here in Cambridge in conjunction with the American Repertory Theater, follows the interactions of John (Ronald N. Lacey), who teaches at a prestigious university, and Carol (Anna A. Hagen ’15), one of his students. Carol comes to her professor one day seeking to talk about the difficulties she has been experiencing in his class. However, tensions flare in their ensuing conversations, turning what may have been a constructive exchange of knowledge into a high-stakes intellectual war. In order to authentically portray the age differential between the teacher and the student in this production, director Rachel V. Byrd ’13 opted to cast Ronald Lacey—who works at the Cabot Library and who himself has taught college classes in South Carolina—as John.
“We did the usual Common Casting, but I also put a posting on Stagesource.org for an older professor, and that’s how we got in touch with Ron,” says Byrd.
The entire play takes place inside of John’s office, and the only characters seen or heard throughout the play are John and Carol, which can make it a demanding play to perform as the entirety of show’s impact is down to the two acters and their on-stage chemistry. Also contributing to the challenge is Mamet’s characteristically idiosyncratic dialogue. Rather than perfectly articulating all of their thoughts, the characters repeat themselves, interrupt one another, and trail off in mid-sentence. The team of “Oleanna” appreciates the artistry of the characters’ unique manner of speech.
“Mamet tries to imprint the language of everyday conversation, which is not a finished language or a polished language, and find the poetry in it,” says Hagen. The nature of the unconventional performance space prevents the staff from relying heavily on technical elements or effects during the production, and the cast intends to use to its advantage. “What’s nice [about] staging a play this way is that it really lets the audience focus on the actors and the text and the communication,” Lacey commented.
According to Byrd, Mamet’s play deals with themes that merit some examination beyond the pages of the script. “That’s one of the reasons we’re having talkbacks after the show,” she says. Byrd hopes that audience members will join the cast and staff to discuss the issues raised by the struggle between John and Carol. “It’s meant to leave audiences in dialogue. It doesn’t tell you who is right or who is wrong.”
— C. E. Chiemeka Ezie