David Mamet’s Oleanna, a Catalan version of which is on at Barcelona’s Teatre Romea until December 2nd, is an intense, clever and, at times, tough play that deals with issues of political correctness, and trust in authority figures and systems. The 1992 piece, the title of which refers to a utopian society invented in a 19th century folk song, centres on a series of meetings between a university professor, John, and his female student, Carol, and on the latter’s interpretation, misinterpretation – or complete invention – of what goes on in those meetings.
Catalan director David Selvas takes up the challenge of updating Oleanna without upsetting the delicate balance of power between the play’s two leading characters. Most notable in this new production is the evolution of Carol (Carlota Olcina) into a ‘millennium’ style feminist. The hints of punkish Lisbeth Salander in her look and manner open up new readings and ironies in the play; Salander as the fictional creation of another male author.
Yet these new dimensions are brought to an already complex play, and in the theatre of Mamet, language and situation provide the intrigue with characters tending to be representative figures. The tougher character of Carol requires that John be tougher, too, and as played with the easy charm of Ramon Madaula, the two don’t quite match up as sparring partners. Having said that, Oleanna is only at the beginning of a six week stay at Romea, and there is enough in this slick and gripping production to suggest that it will rapidly evolve into one of the most debated of the year.
Oleanna by David Mamet, dir. David Selvas
until December 2nd
The play is in fast Catalan