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EMAV Review: Oleanna ***** (Irresistible)

Who’s right, Who’s wrong?

By Paul Atreides

Acclaimed, award-winning playwright David Mamet is known primarily for his gritty, down-to-earth dialogue. Words exchanged between people without mincing, things you might easily hear in everyday life, out on the streets, in offices, anywhere that “polite” conversations would not take place. His work is typically peppered with what some consider “vulgarities.”

Mamet’s 1992 drama, Oleanna, about the power struggle between a university professor and a female student, does not portray those aforementioned types of characters. Oh, sure, there are a few f-bombs, but, as in real life, they come about organically, in a moment of frustration or sudden anger.

Directed by Troy Heard, the two-person production now performing at Majestic Repertory Theater is perfectly done in the round on a sparse office set; there is still a lot to take in–details that bring the space to life.

The play takes a hard look at how communication and political correctness can destroy. It is a play about academic politics, student/teacher relationships, and sexual harassment. All are still relevant today, and the use of a cell phone brings the situation right smack into the present.

Erik Amblad plays John, a university professor who rather likes to hear himself talk. He loves to use big words and pontificate, even to the audience of one, as he attempts to help a student pass a class. Amblad is the penultimate actor. It’s not only tone, volume, and cadence that tells the story; he uses his entire instrument to bring every thought and emotion to light. When one tact isn’t working, and he switches gears, we see it in facial expressions and body posture.

Venus Cobb, as Carol, at first a seemingly struggling student, brings a commanding presence to the stage. She’s got a vocal tonality that, even when soft, belies the intentions beneath. She surprises, and that is what makes it work all the better. The devious undertones, the innocence of youth, and the sometimes questioning of choice all bubble to the surface.

The production’s catchphrase, “Whatever side you believe, you’re wrong,” is front and center, particularly if you paid any attention to the recent Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial.

This is a limited run, and you really do not want to miss this tour-de-force production.

What: Oleanna

When: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday; 5 p.m. Sundays through July 24

Remember that parking in the Arts District can be a challenge. Arrive extra early.

Tickets: $35 / $20 (

Grade: ***** (Irresistable)

Producer: Majestic Repertory Theatre; Director: Troy Heard; Fight Director: Will McMichael; Lighting & Sound Design: Cory Covell; Scenic Design: Troy Heard; Stage Manager: Cory Covell


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