In New York, where the play opened last year, audiences supposedly argued among themselves during the intermission and all the way home. In Los Angeles, a tempest now surrounds its opening at the Mark Taper Forum, where Mamet requested the professor be played by a black man and the artistic director rejected the playwright's suggestion. It seems as though Oleanna has an impact like a stone thrown into a pond, its effects rippling outward from the stage into society. It starts with the work itself, which expands like a wave to include the audiences' divided opinions, which grows to encompass the critics' arguments about what the play means and spreads still further to include how modern society deals with a play that too precisely and accurately attacks today's social currents.
At the very end of the piece, when the final explosion has come, in the last seconds when the truth finally has been unveiled, only then can the two characters begin to communicate on the same level. Perhaps the audience and those who write about the play must challenge their own needs to be politically decorous and be willing to unveil their honest opinions about race, religion, economic status, and gender, no matter how harsh they may be.
Without a doubt, Oleanna represents what the Greeks meant drama to create: an examination of the human condition, and a cathartic experience for the audience. So despite all the naysayers and technocrats, the grand tradition of live theater still thrives. In this holiday season, I give thanks for David Mamet, and to the Coconut Grove Playhouse for offering South Florida such a wonderful dramatic gift.