Oleanna’s Phone Calls
David Mamet’s play Oleanna is a two character power struggle between a young college student and her Professor. By the second act of the play the struggling student, Carol, has filed a formal complaint of sexual harassment, based not on what actually happened, but on the written definition of said conduct in the universities nomenclature. By act three, unbeknownst to the professor, Carol has filed attempted rape charges against the professor. Again the charges do not reflect what actually occurred but find sound footing in the written word of law. As the story unfolds we see the power shift from the safe, smart, and accomplished professor to the worried, unknowing, and desperate student through the use and interpretation of language. At pivotal moments in the play the professor’s phone rings. Calls from his wife, his real estate agent, and his secretary move the story along. Mamet’s phone interruptions reveal elements of character, power dynamics, and conflict to the audience, The phone calls also provoke the audience to draw there own conclusions about the play. Mamet is an American playwright, screen writer and film director from Chicago. He has written several novels, a book of poetry, and worked in television as well. He studied at Goddard College in Vermont and at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theater in New York. He has taught at New York University, Goddard College, and the Yale Drama School, and he regularly lectures at the Atlantic Theater Company, of which he is a founding member. He got hi start in show business at Chicago’s Second City, a comedy club that produced many cast members for Saturday Night Live. Mamet has won many awards including a Toni and a Pulitzer Prize. His most notable work is the play Glengarry Glen Ross, a gritty look at cutthroat real estate salesmen. He has a distinct style of writing, especially known for his sparse and blunt dialogue referred to as “Mamet Speak”. Characters often interrupt each other and thoughts or comments go unfinished. Mamet says in a 1994 interview with Charlie Rose that “drama is three things; who wants what from whom? What happens when they don’t get it? why now? (Rose, Charlie Rose. November 11, 1994) Oleanna is no exception. Mamet begins Oleanna with a revealing look at John by way of phone conversation he is having with his wife. They are in escrow on a new house and he is sorting out issues. Carol has done poorly on her paper and wants nothing more; it seems, than to improve her grade in the class. She sits across from him at his desk. It is unclear if John has invited Carol in to sit at the desk or if she entered and sat down uninvited, but what this phone call tells the audience is that the boundary between John’s personal life and professional life is not well defined. Using the phone allows Mamet to establish John as someone who is in a position of power. He is delegating to his wife; “…that’s why I say “call Jerry”…” (Mamet, 1, 1) and he is needed; “I’m going to meet you there…..I’m leaving in ten or fifteen…” (1, 1), and he is confident; “We aren’t going to lose the deposit…” (1, 1), he assures his wife. Mamet conveys to the audience that John is a busy and successful man. He is in the driver’s seat, accomplishing his goals and taking care of his family. When John hangs up with his wife Carol does not get to the matter at hand, her grade, but instead asks, “What is a term of art?”(1, 2) a phrase he uses on the phone. Rather than begin a discussion about her performance in the class Carol asks a question about the professor’s personal phone call. This allows Mamet to show that Carol does not know and is seeking answers to more than just this course.
The first phone call in the play allows Mamet to show the audience that John is opportunistic and self serving. The professor is annoyed with and has little patience for Carol. He struggles not to interrupt her, uses...
Mamet, David. Oleanna. 1992. Printed Handout
Rose, Charlie, host. Charlie Rose. Public Broadcasting Service, 11 November 1994.
Web. 10 May 2010
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