Oleanna

Topics: Theatre

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‘Oleanna’ is in short one of the most complex plays of the 20th century. ‘Oleanna’ is a ‘particularly virulent battle in the war between women and men. ‘Oleanna’ is deceptively simple in plot and only becomes complicated when you try to figure out exactly what happened. A lot is said, but a lot more is insinuated and even more is to be discussed about.

’ (one on onethe best women’s monologues for the nineties edited by jack Temchin.)

‘Oleanna’ is a duologue, it is written in three acts, in which it manages to enrage the full audience. Men in the first act and women in the second, the third act is totally open-ended and is left to the audience’s interpretation. This is why Mamet wants the dialogue to be kept exactly the same. He wants the audience to see his own views rather than the director’s interpretation.

Mamet has, with ‘Oleanna’ written a polarising play. He lets the audiences past experiences determine their view of they play.

‘Oleanna’ is a realistic piece of drama and like Stanislavski Mamet wants the audience to watch what is being presented to them and decide what their view is on the issues presented. In this case the issues would be the breakdown of relationships, political correctness, power and control, misunderstanding, intellectual freedom and the cynicism of education.

Oleanna Thesis

‘Mamet’s play touches on many issues; but at heart is a despair over society that seems to deny intellectual freedom and resorts instead to ideological jargon and the force of law’ (The Life and Work of Harold Pinter by Michael Billington)

The three acts of the play constitute the exposition, the development and the denouement.

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The end of act one is the end of the exposition yet the end of the development is less clear-cut. Some may say it is the end of Act two yet others may argue that because the end of ‘Oleanna’ is not really a conclusion then the development does not end, the story is still developing. I think the third Act is the denouement with the climax where John holds up the chair to hit her and calls Carol a cunt.

“I wouldn’t touch you with a ten foot pole…. You little cunt.

The anti – climax is Carol saying that’s right.

The play starts with John, a college lecturer on the phone to his wife grace, whilst carol a student in his class waits to speak to him. Carol and John speak about how she is failing his class. She explains to him that she finds it difficult and blames it on being from a different social background and asks him for help.

Act one is loaded with dialogue that can be interpreted differently by different people and it seems that Carol takes them the wrong way.

In the middle of Act one John tells Carol that he ‘likes her’ and that if she visits him more she will get an A in his class. Some people will think John is taking advantage because he knows she has to pass the class,

‘ “I have to pass it…. I have to pass this course.”‘

Yet some people will acknowledge he is only trying to help her. Another example of this is where he reminds her that ‘ “There’s no one here but you and me”‘

During Act One Carol gets very frustrated about her lack of knowledge only to be comforted by John who calms her down only to be told that she doesn’t understand him. The line sums up one of the main themes in the play, they don’t understand each other and so their relationship breaks down. This is due to misunderstanding and misinterpretation.

David Mamet has said that most of his plays are centred around people trying to connect with each other.

” My plays are about people trying to become connected. People who are confused… trying to do good… but no one knows how.’ (Changing stages)

This quote sums up ‘Oleanna’ perfectly. Depending on your view of the play you view either one of the character trying to do good, yet ultimately failing. If you empathise with Carol you believe she is doing good by speaking out about John and is confused about how he treats her about why he needs power. If you empathise with John you believe he is only trying to help and is confused by how she treats him in return.

At the end of Act one Carol is trying to tell him, and the audience something about herself yet they are, once again interrupted by the telephone, a symbol of the outside world.

At the beginning of Act Two Carol is much more confident after joining a new group. She accuses John of harassment, which gives her power over him, and she seems to enjoy this. John seems to be very hurt by the report and doesn’t understand why she is doing this to him.

From the beginning of the play John has said Carol behaves the way she does due to her anger. As they discuss the accusations they are once again interrupted by the telephone. John tells her that he is only trying to save her and she gets angry and tries to leave the room. Instead of letting her go John gets up and restrains her.

In Act Three John has asked Carol to his office to speak about her further accusations, yet she is unreasonable because she knows she has power over him.

‘ “I have you think, power over you… It is the power that you hate”‘

She knows he hates his loss of power and plays on this by trying to bargain with him. She says that if he excludes his book from the University then she will drop the accusations. This seems to incriminate carol yet, at the same time makes her seem reasonable for not ruining his life, all she wants is understanding.

‘ ” You think I want revenge. I don’t want revenge.

At the end of the play Carol pushes John over the edge by telling him not to call his wife baby. John pushes Carol to the floor and picks up a chair as if to hit her, yet he changes his mind (whilst probably changing some of the audiences minds) and puts it down. The end of the act is not necessarily the end of the story, as we do not know what happens to the characters, Mamet wants the audience to decide about the play, how they view it and therefore the denouement of the play.

The super- objectives of the play are the breakdown of relationships and the cynicism of education.

The subplots are political correctness, power and control, and the interruption from the outside world.

With ‘Oleanna’ Mamet follows Pinter’s style ‘No one has taken up the Pinter style with more adroitness, or extended it further, than David Mamet.

His plays – like Pinter’s – are notated like musical scores with pauses capitals and italics for emphasis, dashes and dots for overlapping and interruption – “You can delineate the intention by correctly delineating the rhythm of the speech” And like a composer Mamet demands that the actor study the score fastidiously and perform it without the intrusion of personality’ (Changing Stages pg 231)

The play is structured using units and objectives. The unit objectives are linked together by the through line of action, which, in this case is misunderstanding.

The unit objectives in the first Act are to show the interruption from the outside world via the telephone, to show the exposition, to alienate Carol and to establish a link between the characters.

The unit objectives in the second act are to show Carol’s frustration at her lack of understanding, to show that Carol has brought charges of harassment against John, to show Johns lack of understanding as to why she has done this (maybe it was her aim to make him understand how she feels when she doesn’t understand?) and to show that it is Carol who is now in control. Although Mamet has given Carol a little more power he never fully lets her takes control as he shows when he strips her of power at the end of the play. Also, she doesn’t actually have a lot of power because it is her group who have power over her yet she doesn’t seem to realise this.

The unit objectives of the last Act are to show John’s frustration at Carol, to show that Carol only wants to be understood and to make the audience question whether John did it or not, to think about their view of the play.

When Mamet wrote ‘Oleanna’ Carol was a no hoper and John a caring professor. Carol takes revenge on John who lifts up a chair to hit her yet he doesn’t. The play ends with him looking at her in a confused state. This was met with members of the audience shouting, “Hit the bitch”. When Pinter did ‘Oleanna’ he used Mamet’s real ending where john hits Carol and she forces him to say, “I have failed in my responsibilities to the young”

Both endings are hard hitting and you can argue that one is better than the other yet both have strengths and weaknesses.

‘Mamet’s first ending makes it a drama of recantation in the line of Galileo and The Crucible; the version he staged in New York left you feeling as if you had witnessed a human tragedy.’ (The life and work of Harold Pinter)

‘Oleanna’ is, in some ways a comedy of errors and although it is not funny it can be almost farcical depending on how you view the play. If you feel that John is saying one thing and Carol takes this in a completely different context then the play becomes almost farcical.

‘Oleanna’ is a microcosm for the whole world, what we see when watching ‘Oleanna’ happens everywhere, it is just another misunderstanding. It is also a microcosm about claustrophobia. The feeling of claustrophobia John has in his life is the same as what everyone else will feel in their own lives sometimes.

What makes ‘Oleanna’ so different as a play is that although Mamet is prescriptive so the director may follow some of Stanislavski’s system to access realism he perhaps wouldn’t use emotion memory ‘There are no characters only lines on a page’ (changing stages)

Because it will change the audience’s perception of the play, you cannot play the character with your own emotion you have to BE the character.

Another thing, which makes the play so endearing, is that we don’t actually know the characters intentions. This means that the smallest thing can change the audience’s perception.

Another thing is that in the 20th century when Brecht wrote his list of differences between dramatic theatre and epic theatre he said that dramatic theatre has a beginning, middle and end whereas epic doesn’t, this is not the case with ‘Oleanna’ which doesn’t have a specific beginning or end, also we are not sure if the issues brought forward are resolved.

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Oleanna. (2019, Dec 07). Retrieved from http://paperap.com/paper-on-oleanna/

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