Review by Ailine Hess
The Collegiate Players and their director, Michael Smith, chose “Oleanna” by David Mamet for their debut production at the Staircase Café Theatre, 27 Dundurn Street North in Hamilton. Performances took place on January 15th– 17th. The first act opens with a professor sitting at a slightly cluttered desk speaking animatedly with his wife on the phone while a student is sitting waiting for him to finish. Even though it’s a one-sided conversation, John, played by Mark Christopherson in his stage debut performance, draws the audience in immediately.
He and his wife are in the process of buying a house and are involved in the negotiating process while the tenure committee of his university is planning an announcement.
When the phone call ends, John turns his attention to Carol, ably played by Lyndsey Wakilik in her first leading role. She has come to speak to him about the paper she wrote for his class that she failed. She refers to her notes saying that she doesn’t understand anything that has happened in his class. Carol mentions that she is from different social and economic conditions than everyone else and is stupid. She has to pass, did everything she was told, followed all the rules. The phone rings.
As the play proceeds, interrupted periodically by phone calls, the themes of power, privilege, gender issues, political correctness, academic politics are thought provoking for the actors and audience alike. It is also somewhat of an indictment of higher education. The dialogue, which seems to appear clear to the audience, exhibits miscommunication between the characters. John effectively handles the one-sided phone calls some of which he chooses not to answer. Carol successfully becomes more aggressive as the phone calls continue and challenges John on his responses on both a personal and professional level.
Smith enabled the actors to explore the theme complexities of the play and their relationship with one another. The sets and props were simple, a cluttered desk, 2 chairs, a book bag. They remained the same throughout the play. Nothing detracted from the raw emotion of the play delivered with excellence by the actors. The costumes were ordinary clothes worn today. Carol had an outdoor jacket over her chair and when the pressure was great, looked like she could make a quick departure. The Staircase Theatre, a converted 1914 power station, was an ideal venue for an intimate production.
Smith teaches courses, Acting II and Acting for Film and Television in the Continuing Education Acting Program at Mohawk College. He decided to direct this play on the commute from Toronto to Hamilton and we should be glad he did. We should be looking forward to his next production with anticipation.