Demanding 2-character drama blends innovative script with minimalist techniques

Jim Cavener
Asheville Citizen-Times
March 30, 2007

Theater can be entertaining or disturbing, profound, thoughtful or provocative. David Mamet’s “Oleanna,” being staged by the immediate theater project at N.C. Stage Co., is not entertainment in the light or frothy sense. This is a challenging script, with only two characters.

The building tension and explosive encounter at the denouement leaves the audience weak and exhausted if they’ve allowed themselves to get involved and identify with either role.

“Oleanna” is devastating in its effect. The skill of both actors is a tribute to director Hans Meyer’s wise casting and his incisive innovation with this already erudite content. His staging is brilliant in its simple concept — the two actors virtually never face or see each other.

The bright, white line down the center of the stage symbolizes Carol’s (Katie Fuller) and John’s (Peter Tamm) inability to hear, understand or acknowledge each other, which brings about the drama.

John is a professor on the edge of tenure, and much rests on his getting it. Carol is a student who needs her professor’s help to get the basics of his course. Fuller, an undergrad at UNC Asheville, is able to hold her own with the much more experienced Tamm.

It is easy to assume, early, that the allegations one character makes of the other are valid. But, as time goes on, it appears that each is at once a hero, a villain and a victim. The material is masterful and stimulating. The presentation is so innovative, yet minimalist in set and design, that the overall production is riveting.

The minimalist staging (a black desk, a black phone, three black chairs, three complimentary furniture outlines on the front stage floor) is appropriate. The lighting is unnoticed, thus effective. The sound design comes to a climax with a powerful drum arpeggio.

The characters change in time and the effective clothing and costuming (by company co-founder Lauren Fortuna) accentuate the shifts in power and position. Two people, each subsumed within their own worlds and separated by a bright, white line.

Jim Cavener reviews theater for Take5.

E-mail him at JimCavener@aol.com.