John: Well, there are those who would say it’s a form of aggression.

Carol: What is?

John: A surprise.

Oleanna, by David Mamet

The most terrifying play I have ever read is David Mamet’s Oleanna. I read it first in college. I don’t remember what year or what class. I have a vague recollection of what room I was in when we discussed it and a hazy memory of who the teacher was. The unrelenting feelings of doom and paranoia it produced when I had finished reading it that first time, however, are quite clear. Years later, it was the reason I never closed the door to my office when I was meeting with a student. It was the reason I made it clear to them I did not want to be their friends, nor was it particularly important to me that we liked one another. It is probably the reason I henceforth never took a casual touch for granted (“Carol: . . . To lay a hand on someone’s shoulder / John: It was devoid of sexual content. / Carol: I say it was not . I SAY IT WAS NOT. Don’t you begin to see…? Don’t you being to understand? IT’S NOT FOR YOU TO SAY.”) It is probably why I often wonder if I shouldn’t constantly carry a small audio recorder around with me (just in case) and it may even be why I hate the sound of a telephone ringing.

Rereading it tonight makes me wonder how I ever found the courage to teach at all. It makes me second guess every conversation I had, especially with my female students, especially the ones who were not doing as well as they would have liked in my class. It makes me quake with fear that the student who wrote me a frantic email begging for me to call her to discuss why she got a B+ in the class so she could talk me out of it will one day find me . . . Just yesterday we went out to dinner with a friend who moved to Oakland to go to school for a teaching certificate, and for the first time (Rachel claims) I articulated without reservation that I want to teach again. When we returned home, our friend asked me if she could borrow some plays. I gave her Three Days of Rain, Topdog/Underdog, and The Real Inspector Hound and realized that they would all be on my syllabus if I was ever given the opportunity to have one. If I ever do find my way back to a university, I don’t even want to have a door to my office. And I want recording devices hidden everywhere. Maybe even video surveillance.

Oleanna was the 4th Mamet play of my Saturday, preceded by Boston Marriage, Speed-The-Plow, and Glengarry Glen Ross. With Brief Encounter starting previews in less than a week, it is time (past time, in fact) for the publications office to switch gears and start focusing on our slot-2 show, Mamet’s November. Also, I have been asked to help out (or maybe write for?) our Write Like Mamet contest. I don’t know all the details, but basically we will present a staged reading of 10 or so Mamet-esque scenes from students and playwrights from around the States. This will happen sometime during the November run. What does writing like Mamet entail? Well, here are my notes from my day of reading:

•    Fall from decorum when circumstances fail to live up to expectation
•    Phonetically spelled words
•    Class issues
•    Deception
•    Interrupted speech / unfinished thoughts / repetition of phrases
•    Transgressions / slight Biblical bent
•    Money, morality, crass but not sophomoric
•    “Ross”; “Broads”; “(Pause)”
•    Minimal staged directions / character descriptions
•    Incorporation of non-dramatic texts: e.g. John’s textbook; Gould’s “Radiation” novel
•    Double colons: e.g. “now: look: . . .”
•    Lots of talking on the phone

For those of you who aren’t so much into the theater, go rent Mamet’s Redbelt. It is one of my favorite movies!


One thought on “Fearing OLEANNA

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