Backstage Review:  ‘Oleanna’ at Reno Little Theater

The Name “Oleanna” comes from a Norwegian folk song that is a critique of 19th-century ideas of a utopian society. “Oleanna” shows us a much darker side of some of the aspects of American and of humanity in general.

~Photos and Review by Dana Nollsch~

So let’s take a look at the play.

“Oleanna” was written by David Mamet in 1992 and centers around an ambitious college professor looking to move up in his profession and one of his students looking to make sense of the confusing world around her. Things take several turns for the worst when Carol, the student, played by Libby Bakke comes to the office to see John, the professor, played by James Mardock.  John is distracted by his tenure application, his offer on a new house, and his feelings about higher education. Carol is frustrated at the complexity of the class and her impending failing grade. This sounds like a recipe for disaster, and it certainly is.

Even though “Oleanna was written in 1992, our society is still dealing with many of the same issues explored in “Oleanna”. The issues of exploitation, vulnerability, and lack of communication seem to be part of the human condition. Be forewarned that there is violence that may upset many but there is also truth that may help us to learn that we are all human and we all deserve to be listened to and understood.

I did not do any research about the play before I went to see it and I am glad that I went in not knowing much about it. Oleanna is brilliantly written and performed, showing both sides of a very unfortunate situation to the audience. I was fascinated that the audience had such varied opinions on the story that witnessed.

Both of the characters, John and Carol, are deeply flawed. John is arrogant and closed off; Carol is scared and full of doubt. Both of them have an inability to clearly communicate and unspoken agendas that color their actions. James and Libby play their parts with such energy and intensity, at the same time being true the characters’ humanity, I found myself vacillating between sympathizing and hating each character in turn. We also see the shift in power as the play comes to a dynamic conclusion and the true gravity of the situation is shown to us.

Check out the photos for a taste of “Oleanna”.

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Sandra Brunell Neace directs “Oleanna”, perfectly guiding the actors to that place of the balance of telling the story and avoiding judgment so that the audience may examine their own feelings and opinions.

The set is a representative of John’s office, but it also represents a boxing ring where the conflict takes place.  Chad brings the stage to life with his technical acumen.

I highly recommend seeing the powerful performances of these two wonderful actors. You will also be treated to a play that will bring deep conversations and perhaps a better understanding of our humanity and vulnerabilities.

“Oleanna” plays through September 23rd, 2018; here is a link to Reno Little Theater’s website for more information:


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