Before the show started, I knew how the story ends.
The show tells the story of a female college student accusing her male professor of sexual exploitation, which ends his chance at tenure. I still have lines of “Oleanna” memorized from an acting class two years ago, yet many scenes still made me cringe to watch. Some things about experiencing “Oleanna” again were the same. I still mentally listed all the things the professor should have done differently. He should have never closed his office door. He should have never touched any student, not even a hand on her shoulder when she was upset about her performance in the class. Yet, after the #MeToo revelations, “Oleanna” is different.
The #MeToo movement shocked everyone with just how common incidents like the ones in “Oleanna” are. In Carol’s final speech, she laments on how even if she could forgive him, she has the responsibility to speak up for the sake of what other women have endured or will endure. Now we can name endless examples of brave women who spoke out for every women’s sake, from Hollywood actresses to Olympic gymnasts, to our friends and loved ones.
Actress Skyler Sinclair performed Carol’s character arc from being a confused, nervous student to a strong, passionate woman who stands her ground. Playwright David Mamet is known for writing dialogue like people speak, and it’s not easy to memorize and perform cutoff sentence fragments and one-syllable interjections, but Sinclair did uttered the infamous dialogue as naturally as Mamet intended.
While there was nothing wrong with Sinclair’s performance, I would have liked to see a minority woman in the role of Carol while keeping a white male actor cast as the professor. Carol tells John that she comes from a different socio-economic background and has overcome adversity to even sit in a college classroom. Sinclair played Carol with a clear country accent, and it’s undeniable that people from rural America face significant barriers to higher education. But in the fourth largest and most ethnically diverse metropolis in the U.S., I think it would have been better to cast a minority woman in the role of Carol. While it’s true that all women can face discrimination and harassment, minority women face it far more than white women.
Marty Blair still managed to show John as having good intentions. A part of me thinks that with proper training, a professor like him could have appropriately responded to a distressed student coming into his office. “Oleanna” will continue to be an uncomfortably relevant play, even when #MeToo is in the history books instead of the news.
Also notable, this show has several cougars. Actress Skyler Sinclair, director Sophia Watt, costume Designer Krystal Marie Uchem and stage Manager Allison Viera are all UH alumni, whilelighting designer Addie Pawlick, scenic designer Afsanhe Aayani and assistant director Antonio Lasanta are current theater students at UH.
The Landing Theatre Company is showing “Oleanna” through August 11. Student tickets are $15 and general admission is $25. It’s performed at a little white church turned cozy theater venue, 14 Pews in the Heights.