Given its setting on a college campus, and its characters — a male professor and his female student — it’s only fitting that the national tour of David Mamet’s “Oleanna” should kick off in an academic setting.
With Scott Zigler re-creating Mamet’s original direction, and Jim Frangione and Monica Koskey playing the drama’s two opponents, the production begins a tour that includes many college dates at Washington University in St. Louis. But the play’s basic weaknesses remain.
Mamet fails to provide a reason for Carol’s major turnaround between the acts , and it is difficult to see how or why the slow, almost dimwitted student of the first act changes into the radical of the second. The time lapse can only be a few weeks, or perhaps a month (the program fails to include specifics), but it’s difficult to comprehend how a woman who claims to remember nothing of classroom lectures suddenly spouts legal and political rhetoric as if she were born to it.
Koskey’s acting weakness and lack of projection in the first act make the change even more unbelievable. Frangione is stronger, but he creates no sympathy with his character’s repetitive whining, overbearing pride and lack of understanding, and it’s easy to reach an attitude of “a plague on both your houses.”
Mamet’s dialogue is powerful, as always, and Frangione shows growing befuddlement and frustration in fine style. Koskey, largely because of the way the character is written, is mostly one-dimensional. Zigler’s staging includes a splendid fight scene as the play reaches an unsatisfactory conclusion.