Justin Cipriano (left) plays the part of Professor John; David Eastman (center) directs, and Memory Apata (right) portrays Carol in BarnArts production of “Oleanna.”
June 19-21 — WOODSTOCK — Pete Seeger and the Kingston Trio brought the song “Oleanna” to international audiences long before David Mamet chose to give the same name to his three-act play published in 1992.
The original “Oleanna” is a folk song mockery of the utopian ideal of a perfect American society, an ideal Mamet further examines in his play about a teacher/student relationship in academia.
Mamet’s Professor John lives like he is in the land of Oleanna where, as the song lyrics say, “Wheat and corn just plant themselves, then grow a good four feet a day while on your bed you rest yourself.” As John’s own professional world is coming to perfection with tenure and a first home on the horizon, he meets unexpectedly with a student, Carol, in his office, and his utopian vision slowly becomes unhinged. By his own doing, or by hers?
Mamet, who studied at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vt., artfully stimulates conflicting points of view as he pulls audiences into this 90-minute, two-person drama about gender, power and entitlement. The understated language leaves much to personal perspective and interpretation. As timely today as it was in 1992, “Oleanna” will strike a nerve and leave many unsettled while considering the roles of men and women in this culture, and what lines are crossed when subtle worlds and actions are left to interpretation.
The college student, Carol will be played by Memory Apata, a southern-fried New Englander who moved to Lebanon, N.H., from Little Rock, Ark., last August. Most often a musical performer, Apata finds “Oleanna” to be, she said, “Just the sort of edgy, weird, and dark play that I don’t often get to explore in musical theater and light opera.”
The college professor, John, will be played by Justin Cipriano Usle, who lives in Norwich, Vt. and grew up in New Hampshire and Vermont. Usle has been involved in acting since he was a kid, and he has played Don John in “Much Ado about Nothing” and Mick Jones in “Cumberland Blues.” Usle says of his role, “It is a tough character to take on, and I look forward to investing fully and learning from the professionals I am working with.”
Directing “Oleanna” is Hartland’s David Eastman, an experienced actor and director who studied theater at the University of Hartford. He recently performed in BarnArts production of “Death and Taxes” and is the co-director of the BarnArts Teen Touring Company. He suggested this play to BarnArts as he was especially drawn to the intensity of the writing and the timeliness of the subject matter.
BarnArts Center for the Arts is staging “Oleanna” over six performances in two locations. The first weekend, June 19-21, will take place at the Little Theater in Woodstock. The second weekend, June 26-28, will take place at the Clark Farm Common in Barnard. All Friday and Saturday night performances are at 7 p.m. and Sunday performances are at 5:30 p.m. On Sunday, June 21, the Little Theater performance will be followed by a Q&A panel discussion with the actors, and director. A light reception will follow the discussion. All performances at the Clark Farm Common welcome a bring-your-own picnic pre gathering.
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