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'Oleanna' By David Mamet
Published on Sunday, 16 August 2009

Simple, gripping and quite disturbing, Oleanna is a play about power: how we use it, or rather, how it uses us.

A University professor has just been offered tenure. He has everything: a secure job, a wife and a house - but things are about to go wrong. One of his students is failing his course. They strike a bargain to start it all over again in his office. One of them has to fail.

Is David Mamet testing our judgments about education and political correctness? On the one side of the argument we have an elitist, empowered by a protected hierarchy, who devalues the role of education but derives huge personal benefits out of it; on the other – the prey, a student, who expresses her objections and personal fears of failing college.

In three short acts, the prey turns into the beast and the story goes beyond the personal. At times during the two Zimbabwean actors’ stunning performance, I literally held my breath – it was a moving and deeply human story, whose vulnerable characters you immediately sympathize with.

The stage in the Vault is so small that you are literary breathing into the faces of the actors. One of the spectators in the first row raised her hand as though to protect the student, or herself, in the final scene of acted violence. Realistic? Much more than that. A must-see!

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