SHSU theatre's 'Oleanna' controversial plot sure to get audience talking
Published: Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, September 19, 2012 22:09
The Sam Houston State University will be putting on Oleanna, a controversial play about a relationship between a student and professor.
“Oleanna” by David Mamet is about a professor, John, and his student, Carol. Carol comes to John asking for help with class, so he helps her. Soon the lines between student and teacher become blurred. Carol eventually accuses John of sexual harassment. Unfortunately John was in the process of getting tenure and buying a house. Carol ruins this for him.
Michelle Ritter, senior theatre major and director of “Oleanna”, proposed the play, along with others, to the theatre department. They then picked the play “Oleanna” and Ritter to direct. Ritter liked the controversy of the play.
“At first I was really attracted the relationship between the two characters in the show,” Ritter said. “The way that David Mamet writes it really reveals how they feel about each other and what they are doing in this place. As I read it a couple of more times I thought it was appropriate for the political climate we are in right now.”
According to Ritter, the play is written in a way that the audience can’t really tell who’s good and who’s bad. Both characters are both human, they are both wrong and right at the same time. This is like in any teacher student relationship.
“We are in a college setting and basically the play is about like a college professor and college student and I feel like a lot of people can relate to the situation whether you’re on the professor side or student side,” Ritter said. “I feel like it could start a lot of discussion around here.”
Ritter wants the audience to have an experience that makes them think. It is not they kind of play that is laid out with a clear explanation.
“It’s not black and white. It’s not written out for you, nobody explains it to you,” Ritter said. “You kind of have to make up your own mind about these two people and the situation.”
The play to her is like a “catalyst” for people to sit down and talk to each other about an intelligent theatre experience.
Ritter did not have to modernize the play too much because it was written in the 1990’s. The only thing she had to add was a laptop and a cell phone; the rest of it relevant.
Another reason the play is interesting is because it all takes place in John’s office.
“It actually gives you interesting dynamics between the two characters because they can’t get out of the space, there is nowhere else to go,” Ritter said. “It’s interesting because the author, David Mamet, puts them in this space for a reason. He kind of traps them and that’s what creates the conflict.”
Since it is about normal everyday people, there are no major clothing changes.
Ritter is excited about this play in more ways than one. The whole play is put together, acted, and designed by students.
“We have our faculty advisors and they have helped us out a lot, but I feel like it’s really impressive that Sam Houston can do this kind of thing and allow students to push the bounds and get hands on experience,” Ritter said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for all of us who are involved as students.”
Ritter took a lot away from having the opportunity to direct this play.
“I learned to trust myself and my instincts I think that’s going to be important in the field of theatre as I continue directing and acting,” Ritter said.
Ritter also took away the idea of team work.
“I learned there is a lot of team work going on you have to trust each other a lot,” Ritter said. “Actors trust directors, directors trust designers, designers trust themselves and each other.”
Ritter realized the work couldn’t just be for her.
“Putting on a show like this has taught me that other people are important in the creative work,” Ritter said. “You have to make sure that you include everyone else. If it is just you…if it’s just for you then what’s the point. It should be for other people and other people should contribute.”
Ritter gave one insight into a surprise at the end of the show.
“We are doing something really interesting with lights, the concept that sometimes even in really real life situations, reality kind of breaks for you sometimes,” Ritter said. “So at the very end there is something really cool that we are doing with the lights, but everyone will have to come see it to see what I’m talking about.”
“Oleanna” will be running from Sept. 26- 29 at 8 p.m. in the Performance Theatre, with a matinee at 2 p.m. on the 29. Tickets are $10. To preorder tickets, call 936-294-1339.