PRINT March 1993

Exits and Entrances

David Mamet’s Oleanna

THE SHOCK OF DAVID MAMET’S Oleanna, a play about a female student’s charges of sexual harassment against her male professor, is the shock of the Hill/Thomas hearings: it astounds by revealing how many otherwise “reasonable” people still don’t get it. And it’s an easy reading to say that one of them is the author. Once again, as in his screenplay for the Paul Newman film The Verdict, Mamet has invented a woman who seems to “ask for it” so intensely that New York audiences for the play, at this writing SRO off-Broadway, apparently routinely shout approval of the violence his politically correct character suffers.

Still, if Mamet has problems in the area of unconscious projection, his forte remains ambiguity: it may be hard to sanctify the student in Oleanna, but for some of us, anyway, it’s impossible to tolerate the teacher. What’s interesting, then, is just how controversial the play has

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