'Oleanna' challenges audience's thinking

Playwright David Mamet has a way of making an audience squirm.

His scripts address social and political issues that are dicey. His characters often are unlikable � and startlingly reflective of ourselves.

E.M.U. Theatre opened Mamet's three-act play "Oleanna" Thursday night at the Lawrence Arts Center. The two-member cast played before an audience of less than 10, but nonetheless gave emotionally charged performances.

"Oleanna" opens in the office of John (Andrew Stowers), a university professor who is meeting with Carol (Lauren Stanford), a student upset because she can't understand what he's teaching. The two talk at each other, interrupting each other's sentences and ignoring that communication also means listening.

As Carol tries to express her frustration, John is distracted by phone calls regarding a house he is buying to celebrate his expected tenure. While he complains about the corruption of the educational system, John enjoys the financial comfort it provides.

Carol, who seems like a weak, dependent student in Act I, is a force John must reckon with in the subsequent acts. Urged on by what is referred to as "the group," she has filed a complaint alleging sexual misconduct and "theatrical diversions" in class.

She wants what John has: power. And she's willingly to get it at any cost.

Mamet's play probes teacher-student relationships and the use of sexual allegations as a weapon. It's a play that speaks to our time and our community.

"Oleanna" continues at 8 p.m. today and Saturday at the arts center, 940 N.H. If you go, you might want to hang around for the performance of Kansas University alumnus Neil LaBute's "Bash: Latterday Plays," staged by Wichita's Theatre on Consignment.


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