Backstage at the Players is a perfect space in which to experience David Mamet’s brilliant 1992 drama about a college professor accused of sexism.
Seeing it on Broadway would be one thing, but seeing it in a 30-by-30 black-walled, back of the building rehearsal space adorned with two chairs, an all-important telephone and a desk, sitting 3 to 4 feet from an actor portraying a character so intensely that you see the tremble of his hand, the blood flushing his cheeks, and the mucous in his nose is to experience fear and frustration itself. Harry Lipstein, a former professor himself, has become an actor only within the last few years, but gives an absolutely riveting, moving performance. His character is about to get tenure from the college where he’s taught for many years, is in the middle of finally buying his family’s dream house, when he quite suddenly finds himself harried by the hounds of hell, from which there is no escape.
In the demanding role of his failing student, Carol, Victoria Miller plays his failing student who appears petulantly obtuse in Act 1, and becomes a brainwashed FemiNazi (to borrow Rush Limbaugh’s phrase) by Act II, and finally a vengeful, manipulative opportunist in Act III. Her stiffness creates a useful foil for Lipstein to react against, but, as written, the character seems an extreme caricature. It was enough to have elicited a great deal of debate and furor when it first appeared on the stage whether Mamet was himself a sexist.
Joe Keratin does a fine, taut job of directing this production. The essential conflict between student and teacher comes to the forefront, more so than that of politics. Every social movement has its extremes, and the play points its finger at the feminist movement, but even more so at the human failures of communication and our education system itself. It’s well worth seeing.
IF YOU GO
“Oleanna” runs through April 21, at The Players Backstage Theatre. For more information, call 365-2494.
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