CMC tackles controversial Mamet play ‘Oleanna’
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” When the play “Oleanna” first came on the scene, it literally provoked fistfights. Even now, 15 or so years later, David Mamet’s sexual harassment-themed piece still has the ability to cause arguments and rifts, to truly get people’s blood boiling.
It’s not exactly a subtle Glenwood debut for Colorado Mountain College’s Gary Ketzenbarger.
“If you strip away the veneer of society, there’s this raw power underneath,” said the new associate professor of speech and theater.
Sitting on the stage at CMC, he was joined by his co-star and co-director, Faith Rohrbacher. As the pair took turns describing the story, one that centers around an older professor and a young co-ed, it was as though they melted into their characters. Regardless of their actual personalities, it was easy to see Ketzenbarger as a talky, pompous teacher and Rohrbacher as an insecure, stammering student. It’s when these two fictional people get embroiled in a long, private conversation that things get complex. Though it looks as though nothing has really happened in the first act, the words from it come back to haunt the teacher in the second. Essentially, it boils down to a sexual harassment case, but there is nothing straightforward about it.
“We could have an audience sit there and have opinions that are totally diametrically opposed,” said Ketzenbarger.
“If we do it right,” added Rohrbacher, stealthily.
That’s just the challenge Ketzenbarger was looking for. After taking over for the CMC Spring Valley campus’ well-known, well-loved Tom Cochran, he wanted to get people’s attention right off the bat. Though the run of “Oleanna” has yet to start, it’s hard to imagine him not succeeding.
Even its first 20 minutes are fascinating ” and exhausting ” to watch. As the stars ran through it, it was like hearing someone’s parents fighting and watching a car crash, all rolled into one. That is to say, it was hard to listen to and impossible to turn away from. The two admitted that, even though they both directed the story, they made sure not to tell each other their characters’ motivations. That way, the confused feeling they exude on stage is real.
From the beginning, it’s as though they’re speaking separate languages. Rohrbacher’s Carol talks in sentence fragments, while Ketzenbarger’s John spews whole paragraphs. He’s distracted; she’s worried. She’s dying to know about her grade in his class; he’s thinking about the house he’s buying. She wants to understand his course, and he wants to help her, but they just can’t seem to get on the same page. The longer their conversation goes, the more frustrating it becomes for both. The misunderstandings aren’t cleared up but instead are only buried by further misfires.
At one point, for example, John tells Carol all these vulnerable, secret facts about himself. He’s attempting, as he says, “to be personal” with her as a way to help her feel better about her own issues.
“Why would you want to be personal with me?” Carol replies, full of skepticism, as she obviously takes his words the wrong way.
And it just keeps rolling along like that.
The second act, the pair explained, is when Carol makes her scandalous claims, and the viewer sees how powerless and yet powerful both characters are. He’s in charge of her grade, and she can affect whether or not he gets tenure. With those kind of elements, tensions can only run high ” on the stage and in the audience.
While Ketzenbarger and Rohrbacher did promise an ending full of drama and surprise, they weren’t close to giving it away. It’s the journey to that finale that they spoke of so eloquently.
“It’s really exciting to make a piece that’s so delicate,” said Rohrbacher. “It’s the most difficult piece I’ve ever done.”
Like her, Ketzenbarger doesn’t feel blame toward either of these characters. This isn’t even about sexism, but an eternal power struggle that’s really bigger than both participants.
“The mechanics of society has really put these people in this place,” he said, making it sound entirely that inevitable.
In that way, it’s impossible to imagine either winning this fight. It seems they both must lose, at least in some sense.
Isn’t that what war is all about, anyway?
Contact Stina Sieg: 384-9111
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