Oleanna, Burnt Orange Productions, at Chicago Dramatists Workshop. Often misinterpreted as an antifeminist diatribe, David Mamet's provocative tragicomedy is in fact a take-no-prisoners showdown between two equally flawed characters: John, a professor of pedagogy at a small college, and Carol, the confused student whom he offers to tutor. When Carol misinterprets John's interest and accuses him of sexual harassment, there follows a war of miscommunication between an egotistical pedant who no longer listens to his students and a young woman who makes him the scapegoat for the historic inequities of the education establishment.
This is complex material, ranging from ancient sexual, class, and generational conflicts to playwright-professor Mamet's self-critical dissection of teaching as mission and profession. In director Kay Martinovich's taut revival, it's also the stuff of gripping drama, thanks to the escalating urgency with which the cast convey their characters' power struggles. Anne Fogarty clearly illuminates Carol's journey from inarticulate uncertainty to absolutist conviction, slogging and slicing through tangled ideas and feelings like an explorer trying to find her way out of a jungle. Paul Noble, though a bit too young for the middle-aged John, convincingly portrays the man's evolution from self-satisfaction to horrified self-understanding at the play's violent climax. Together they deliver Mamet's chillingly dissonant give-and-take with the acerbic precision of the two-part Bach counterpoint that plays during blackouts in this superb production. --Albert Williams