What drew you to Oleanna?
I’ve worked on the world and British premieres of several of Mamet’s plays, and continue to be drawn to them because of their incite to human nature and how, on the most basic levels, people behave – the regard or lack of regard they have for each other, or even themselves.
David Mamet is famed for his quick-fire dialogue. What sort of challenges does this provide for you as an actor?
The challenge — and the fun — is in working with your scene partner or partners to realise the musical and rhythmical qualities of his language; so that it is both snappy and precise and yet still captures the eccentric and erratic ways in which people actually communicate or miscommunicate. It’s in achieving what is sometimes referred to as his poetic reality, and in revealing to the audience what the characters are thinking — often in spite of what they’re saying. Which is to say, how they’re trying to use language to get what they want.
Since the play was written, political correctness has become a hot potato. Do you think this makes the play ever relevant?
I’m going to be a little perverse, and say, “No.”, because for me the play isn’t really about “political correctness”. It’s about what the British rather oddly refer to as “cowboys” — which is to say people who are incapable of doing, or unwilling to do, their jobs properly. We live in a world in which tradesmen, bankers, politicians, policemen social workers, manufactures, and, yes, teachers & students have lost sight of their responsibilities and failed to live up to their own professed standards. People just aren’t doing their jobs. It’s forgivable in the young and impressionable, who are, after all, in our charge and requiring our care, as is the student in Oleanna; but it’s a universal failing of society in those who should know better; and it’s a bomb that can easily go off, if we don’t handle it carefully. This, to me, is the plays contemporary and timeless relevance.
Mamet’s work is continually performed all over. What do you think makes him such a fascinating playwright?
Much of the fascination with Mamet is due to the playfulness and fragmented quality of his language. Its quirkiness is beguiling, and often humorous, because it captures something immediately identifiable about our attempts to communicate and how they often reveal — indeed betray — what’s actually going on in our minds. But, perhaps more significantly, David’s plays have the universal appeal of good drama, in that they depict, and involve the audience in, conflict. David doesn’t write colorful accounts of what went on off stage or informative monologues about how someone “feels”. His characters say what they say because they want what they want, right here and right now.
If you were to sum up why audiences should see Oleanna, what would you say?
Well, it’s easier to say why one shouldn’t see Oleanna. If you don’t wish to be shocked, challenged, dazzled, disturbed, or to be found laughing in spite of yourself, then Mamet is not for you.