OLEANNA, Bog Theatre. David Mamet’s provocative drama, about the showdown between a middle-aged college professor and a female student accusing him of sexual harassment, explores language’s use and misuse as an instrument of communication and power. The simultaneously precise and enigmatic script challenges directors to make strong interpretive choices, and Michelle Ann Mueller and Charla Mason–the directors of this studio production in Des Plaines–have risen to the test. Though not as gripping as Kay Martinovich’s searing staging for Burnt Orange Productions in 1997, Mueller and Mason’s rendition of the play is the most politically charged of several I’ve seen, bringing new insight and power to a brilliant but difficult work.
Often simplistically characterized as misogynist baby boomer whining, Oleanna is in fact a remarkably evenhanded depiction of a conflict inflamed by generational and class differences as well as male-female miscommunication. This production emphasizes both characters’ righteous anger: John is a defender of freedom of thought (but also of his pedagogical authority), while Carol is a cultural revolutionary hoping to radically reorder the educational power structure. Though Molly Anna Jones’s arched eyebrows make her seem a bit melodramatic, her Carol is an articulate zealot worth listening to; and while Daniel Scott is too youthful to be fully convincing as the tenure-seeking teacher, his transformation from smug academic to enraged resistance fighter is gripping. Recorded folk music, including Joan Baez singing “We Shall Overcome,” gives this paean to failed liberal goodwill a mournful irony. –Albert Williams