OLEANNA, Hodar Productions and Push & Shove Inc., at Stage Left Theatre. “The worst nine words in the language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help,'” David Mamet quotes someone as saying in his book of essays 3 Uses of the Knife. “It means, ‘I’m going to suggest solutions to a problem…to which I feel superior.’…The process of ‘helping’ [is] a process of infantilizing.”

No one can accuse Mamet of helping the audience in Oleanna, which is why this brilliant, perplexing work stands up to numerous interpretations. In his 1992 play, a middle-aged male college professor “helps” a female student with private tutoring, then is ruined when she charges him with sexual harassment. Mamet’s refusal to spell out why she does what she does is the source of the play’s enduring appeal.

The second low-budget off-Loop Oleanna this season, this production has as its greatest asset Christopher Garrett as the teacher: he at least appears to be the graying baby boomer the script calls for, allowing director Nicole Mischler to emphasize the characters’ generational as well as gender conflicts. Ingrid Bonne seems more sympathetic to her foe’s case than other actresses I’ve seen, though she pursues the professor’s downfall zealously. This is a solid production of a masterful script; now if only the small storefront theater weren’t so stuffy.

–Albert Williams