Play:    Oleanna

Group:    Vanity Theatre

Venue:    Black Cat Theatre, 2810 Sutton Blvd.

Dates:    November 14,15,16

Tickets:    $15 and $20; contact 618-920-6377

Story:    Life is going well for John.  His position as an English professor at a Midwestern university is about to be enhanced by his elevation to tenure.  This has enabled he and his wife to purchase a dream home and also has John thinking of sending his young son to a private school.  Everything changes quickly and unexpectedly, however, when Carol visits his office one day.  She is one of his students, and apparently a troubled one at that.  Carol says she is having great difficulty comprehending the material in John’s class.  She asks for his help so that she can better understand and, hopefully, get a better grade as a result.

    Over the course of the play’s two acts and three scenes, however, the power of words, and what they may mean to different people, radically affects John’s cozy little existence, perhaps irrevocably.  Has John threatened Carol?  Has he attempted to rape her?  Or is everything between them a massive misunderstanding?

Highlights:    A searing, sarcastic drama, Oleanna is the stuff of which playwright David Mamet’s legend is made.  He is adept both at scathing, biting dialogue and ingenious surprises and twists that can turn a plot on its beguiling ear.

    Vanity Theatre’s presentation is directed, somewhat curiously, by both Jennifer Bock and David Lane.  Not sure why two directors might be necessary, but in this case their collaborative effort is successful, and the production as a result is an engrossing and captivating work, if not also akin to watching a train wreck in progress.

Other Info:    Andrew Michael Neiman smoothly conveys the smirky, smug, self-congratulatory denseness of John, showing us how John may pretend to have an interest in Carol’s plight but in reality is more transfixed on his own interpretation of his role as ‘teacher’ in society.  It’s a measured and effective portrayal, all the more so as John’s self-inflicted verbal wounds begin to take their toll beyond his own comprehension.

    As Carol, young Michele Dumoulin is most successful in the first two scenes, as the befuddled student who then quite adroitly turns John’s words against him with powerful effect.  She’s less convincing in the work’s denouement, but Mamet can be a hard nut to crack for even polished veterans.

    The title refers to an old folk song and a yearning for a more idyllic life.  Certainly, Mamet is among the least idyllic of playwrights, but his puzzling prose offers meaty morsels for actors to digest, including the performers in this fine production.  Good technical support as well by costume designer Christy Guennewig and lighting director Cassi Scott.

Rating:    A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.