Trust no one! That is the message of Oleanna. Well, there are actually quite a lot of messages packed into David Mamet’s two-character drama, but that’s certainly the theme that I left the theater with.
Bill Pullman and Julia Stiles
box star in this revival of Mamet’s 80-minute drama about a college professor and student embroiled in a high-stakes battle of words. But trust me; it’s uglier than it sounds. Is the college professor (Pullman) sexist? Is the student (Stiles) over sensitive? Has he made an attempt to diminish her? Or is she just out for blood? None of these questions can be answered definitively, which is frustrating. But half the fun is considering all arguments in your head when the play is over.
What’s frightening about Oleanna is that it’s setting is based on an occurrence we can all relate to: seeking extra help from a teacher. It’s innocent enough—a student is trying to learn and the teacher is willing to aid the process; no one expects, well… the furniture to be turned upside down. Oleanna presents this common scenario in nightmare form: the student feeling harassed and the teacher having his career and personal life about to be shattered.
Oleanna starts off at a slow, ‘Where-is-this-going?’ pace. But have patience. What you’re watching is an invisible puzzle being put together, and at any moment, the image will pop more vividly that you could have imagined. And that’s one aspect that makes this play fascinating (and probably worth a second viewing). Every statement and gesture is placed in the scene for a reason. Mamet’s clues and nuances each come into play later in the story, and mock your expectations that they were mere excess.
Stiles is wonderful as Carol, the student. Every emotion that brushes past Carol’s face appears genuine, until Stiles purposely makes you question it. Her performance kept me guessing the entire time, and it made me delightfully awestruck. Her stubbornness and matter-of-fact diction is so on key, it could make anyone’s blood boil. Pullman gives college professor John a painful weariness—I felt stressed just watching him. He brilliantly illustrates strained phone conversations and allows characters that aren’t even on stage to get the best of his. Pullman makes John’s eagerness to reach out to Carol earnest and heartbreaking, particularly in the light of the damning accusations she’s brought against him.
The stages of Oleanna are built in a marvelous crescendo. My interest grew appropriately as the stakes rose in each scene, so that by the conclusion, I was wide-eyed and waiting for an answer. And what a finale! At the risk of revealing any surprises, I’ll spare details. But the closing of Oleanna is one of the most shocking and nail-biting pieces of theater I’ve ever seen. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so uncomfortable in a theater before. I was amazed at Pullman and Stiles’ ability to do the scene so well and couldn’t help but wonder how awkward it must be for them to execute.
While these characters spend the entire play explaining themselves and attempting to justify, they still feel like a mystery at the play’s end. I don’t know their motives or how they came to be the way they are. Perhaps Mamet wants these characters to almost be phantoms, but I felt like I needed to know them better in order to truly understand them.
Regardless of your beliefs or whose side you end up taking, what’s tragic about Oleanna is that two people had an opportunity to reach out to each other and help, but decided to sucker punch the other instead. And because of that, I say, trust no one!
Editor’s note: I was invited to see Oleanna and did not rush it. There is a student rush policy in place for this show. Tickets go on sale one hour prior to curtain for $20 each, up to two tickets per ID.
And in case you can’t rush the show, but still want to get a discount, Stage Rush is offering its first discount offer! To save over 40 percent on tickets, visit BroadwayOffers.com and enter code OLMKT93. Tickets are only $59 Tuesday-Friday or $65 Saturday and Sunday. Valid through November 15.
Photo: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
Editor’s note: In the spirit all the exciting changes that are occurring with this blog, it is my pleasure to present Stage Rush’s first guest blogger, Kym Formisano.
When Jesse asked me to be the very first guest blogger for Stage Rush, I cannot deny the wave of complete and utter fear that washed over me. I certainly questioned his sanity briefly; after all, handing Stage Rush over to little old me is akin to entrusting a homeless man on the subway with your firstborn. Ok, that might be a slight exaggeration. But there was a huge amount of trepidation and anxiety on my part, especially when I discovered I would also be covering the first off-Broadway play to be discussed on the blog. Gulp.
As it turns out, I had little need to be so concerned. Actually, what began as a nerve-wracking trip to the always-beautiful Union Square turned into not only one of the easiest and most efficient rushes I’ve done, but also a powerful and vivid theatrical experience matched only by the energy and undying vigor of the show’s star.
Colman Domingo, one of the players in the gone-too-soon masterpiece Passing Strange and its recent film adaptation by Spike Lee, stars in the one-man show he authored, A Boy and His Soul, at the Vineyard Theatre. The Vineyard, previous home to shows like [title of show] and Avenue Q, is an unassuming brick structure with a quaint sensibility (before a certain time, one must be buzzed into the lobby) and an interior that brings to mind a combination of a small-town theater company and a modern art gallery. Because of the erratic nature of some off-Broadway theaters and their rush policies (I’m looking at you, Atlantic Theater Company), I decided to check with the receptionist well before show time to make sure I had the correct rush policy information. After being buzzed in by a super-pleasant voice, I entered the lobby and was immediately greeted by an enthusiastic and helpful box office attendant. The rush policy here is fairly standard: show up two hours prior to curtain with cash in hand and receive up to two tickets at $20 each. It is also a general rush, so don’t worry if you’ve lost your student ID. I left with a sense of confidence, ready to return at 5 p.m. and purchase my tickets. Read more
Welcome back, Stage Rushers! A new Broadway season has begun, and I don’t know about you, but I feel absolutely overwhelmed by all the shows that I want to see. So let’s start off the 2009/10 season with a bang.
I was terrified to rush A Steady Rain. I couldn’t even fathom the masses that would flock to a production starring the men that brought the Drover and Tuvia Bielski to life on the big screen. (Sigh) Ok, fine—Wolverine and James Bond! This play starring Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig stands as one of the starriest marquees in recent memory. Sure, there’s been Julia Roberts, Geoffrey Rush, and Jane Fonda in recent years, but both of these actors in one play is huge. The last films in their respective franchises each earned over $150 million domestically, and they also share critical adoration. Their appearance in a 1,071-seat theater is something of an event, to say the least.
In preparation of my plans to rush the show last Friday while it was still in previews (it opened last night), I decided to swing by the Shoenfeld Theatre the day before on my way to work to scope out the rush crowd. I was trying to gauge what time I should arrive at the theater the next morning. Times that were running through my head were 7, even 6 a.m. But to my great surprise, at 9:35 a.m., there were only eight people in the rush line for A Steady Rain. I didn’t know how it was possible, but I ditched my next-day plans and got in line right away. There’s no time like the present, right? Read more
Does trying to score discount tickets to a show a week after it won the Tony for Best Play seem overambitious? Not if you just played The Ultimate Rush.
Since God of Carnage did, in fact, win that prestigious award just a week before I decided to get standing-room-only tickets for it, I knew I’d have to get to the theater early. (It’s one of those pesky shows that doesn’t offer a student rush. Excuuuse me!) Thanks to a summer Fridays policy at my work, I was able to arrive at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre at 3:45 p.m. (standing tickets go on sale two hours prior to the performance). I was the first on line, and thus, felt pretty confident in my chances of getting a ticket. I had asked the box office attendant where we standing-room hopefuls should line up. I always think that’s a smart way to go; it’s better than having them rearrange the line later because you’ve all formed in the wrong place. Not long after I took my place outside the theater, about 25 people joined me in line, and over the course of two hours, we experienced The Rush of Dumb Questions. “Are you in line?” a woman asked no one in particular in our linear formation. “Are you waiting for tickets?” a woman queried me (being at the head of the line also has its disadvantages). The taker has to be the woman who asked, “What are you waiting for?” Me: “Standing room tickets.” Woman: “So you stand?” (pause) Me: “Yes.” Don’t they read this blog?? But all was made better when a very enthusiastic, possibly homeless man (who am I to assume?) answered a young couple who asked him if the show offered marked-down tickets. “This show doesn’t have discounts! Do you know how many Tonys they won??” At 6:10 p.m. (a little late), the box office attendant ushered us into the lobby. I purchased my standing room ticket for $26.50 (you can buy up to two) and “prepared myself for the chaos and the carnage,” as the theater usher would ask me, deadpanned, later when I took my spot for the performance. Read more
Before seeing 33 Variations, Moises Kaufman’s play exploring why Ludwig van Beethoven composed the titular arrangements seems like a big “No, thank you.” But sometimes we have to look deeper to find the gem that lies within something. Kaufman and Beethoven did the same thing.
I took a chance by arriving at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre at 9 a.m. to wait for rush tickets, instead of the more customary (and safe) 8 a.m. I didn’t think the billing of Jane Fonda would pull a big audience from people my age, and the play has been performing to average house capacities of under 58 percent for the past four weeks. Those factors make for no guarantee that there won’t be a… well, rush for rush, but in this case, my guess was accurate. Only two other rushers joined me in line a few minutes before the box office opened. 33 Variations participates in the rare policy of only distributing one rush ticket per valid ID. Who goes to see a play alone?! Yes, I often do; but attending a theater performance is usually a social event, which a rush policy shouldn’t hinder. In addition, the ticket price is $30 – an annoying $4.50 above the standard amount. However, the tickets are in the front row, center section. I was shocked they were giving those seats for this play. The view was fantastic, and being that close to a film legend like Fonda was a special experience. Read more
At a time in our culture when the man-boy is king at the box office, it seems to be the hip thing to discover what makes a man like this and what does it take for him to shake the first part of that moniker. reasons to be pretty is Neil LaBute’s take on the man boy, and how to smack the child right out of him (perhaps literally).
The student rush policy for reasons to be pretty states that the tickets go on sale two hours prior to the performance. I arrived at the Lyceum Theatre at 5 p.m., book in hand, ready to wait an hour for tickets to be released (hoping I’d be permitted to wait in the lobby instead of under the threatening clouds). I went to the ticket window to check that there were rush tickets available for the performance and the attendant surprisingly initiated the transaction – an hour early. That’s not the policy, but I’m certainly not going to complain. I was in and out, $26.50 third row balcony seat in hand. That’s the third tier in the Lyceum, which is so high and steep that it makes my palms sweat. The seats weren’t bad, but for a play that’s been playing to 42 percent attendance for the past three weeks, I’d have thought rush seats would have been closer. However, the producers seem quite discount friendly; in addition to the student rush policy, there are show promoters around Times Square offering $35-ticket coupons to the production. Read more
There are some things in life that, if given the opportunity, you simply have to do. Seeing Angela Lansbury on a Broadway stage is one of them. Thus, rushing the revival of Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit, starring Mrs. Potts herself, was a no-brainer.
The Blithe Spirit student rush is a tricky one to maneuver, in that discounted tickets go on sale two hours prior to curtain. If the rush begins when the box office opens, I know to show up two hours prior. No problem. But in the case of Blithe, do you show up right at 6 p.m.? Do you come 15 minutes before? Or do you wait all damn day at the front of the line? It’s difficult to judge how many people will show up for rush, and when. Well, I loves me some discounted tickets, but I’m sure as hell not going to create an all day vigil at the head of a one-person line. Read more
I long for summer. Not because I’ll be able to take long walks in Central Park without my ears falling off. Not because I can sit outside at Blockheads and enjoy $3 frozen margaritas. But because student rushing shows won’t be such torture!
I arrived at the Broadhurst Theatre at 8:15 this morning. I was first in line, which is satisfying, yet at the same time always induces me with the irrational fear that all other rushers must know something I don’t, or else why wouldn’t they already be here. I especially was nervous because this is the final week for the run of this Peter Shaffer play and had thought more rushers would be taking their last chances. My arrival to the theater must have been Mother Nature’s cue, because a blizzard commenced instantly, and lasted through the box office opening (not to mention the rest of the day). I stood just under the edge of the awning where the most logical entrance to the box office would be, come 10am. By the time a few people had joined me in my frigid wait for tickets, the fourth girl in line asked if we wouldn’t mind changing our line direction so that everyone could be standing under the awning and sheltered from the snow. I had no qualms with this, but the theater’s lobby attendent did. Why, I don’t know, but she wanted the line to start by the door furthest from the ticket window. This left everyone who joined the student rush line standing in the snow, except for me. I was dry, but I’ll admit, I felt pretty guilty. Read more