In Oleanna land is free,
The wheat and corn just plant themselves,
Then grow a good four feet a day,
While on your bed you rest yourself.
Beer as sweet as Muchener
Springs from the ground and flows away,
The cows all like to milk themsleves
And hens lay eggs ten times a day.
Little roasted piggies
Just rush about the city streets,
Inquiring so politely if
A slice of ham you’d like to eat.
–from “Oleanna”, translated from the Norwegian by Pete Seeger
Well. That was an intense, prejudice-challenging piece of theatre.
Full disclosure: Eric Smith, the director and one of the two stars of Get Off The Stage Productions production of Mamet’s Oleanna (brilliantly) directed my Guenevere earlier this year at the Walterdale. Maybe I’m prejudiced.
Smith and Cristina Falvollita are riveting as they perform the signature Mamet interrupt-and-talk-over dialogue, the intensity increasing steadily and uncomfortably through the two counterbalanced acts. Here the interruptions are power-differences manifest in speech: the powerful male professor repeatedly asks the female undergraduate what she thinks and just as often interrupts her to tell her what she thinks, and, more important to him, what he thinks. In the second act, the interruptions shift across the stage as the power shifts.
Smith and Fallvollita make the brutal climax inevitable, unexpected, and I would hope, painful for any audience. Oleanna argues forcefully, harshly, and, I think, correctly, that there can be no Utopia in which everyone’s rights and responsibilities are never compromised, in which middle-aged men with power never make unwitting but disastrous mistakes, where Political Correctness is always correct, or where pigs willingly sacrifice themselves to become our ham sandwiches.
The world is a messy spatter-painting in infinite shades of grey. Mamet’s Oleanna forces us to face that world.
But will we see it?
I found it a strange thing as the house lights came up to hear the young ladies seated next to me, ladies very probably much like Fallavollita’s character Carol, I found it strange to hear them say “I liked it.” They had just watched two people destroyed on stage before them. Violently dismantled emotionally, psychologically, and physically, and: “I liked it”?
I was the last of the audience out of the theatre this afternoon. I stayed to shake Eric’s hand (with great respect as he and Cristina Fallavollita are also performing in The Sinner’s Club at the Fringe this week). Eric asked me,
“Did you like it?”
And, actually, yes.
Yes, I did like it.
You have three chances left to see Oleanna at the Edmonton Fringe: August 22 at 8:30, the 25th at Noon, and the 27th at 6:00. All performances are at the very appropriate Venue #9, the Telus Phone Museum.