The Manhattan College Players were back in action on Thursday, Feb. 15 in the Black Box as they performed a play reading of David Mamet’s “Oleanna.”
The play is broken up into three acts and consists of two characters: a college student named Carol (performed by Gabriella Herrera) and a college professor named John (performed by Peter Martino). The play deals with the topics of sexual harassment and sexual assault which director Matt Peters found very relevant to current events.
“I first came across Oleanna a few months ago, just after the Harvey Weinstein scandal had become a national headline,” wrote Peters in a director’s note found in the playbill. “As time went on, and more people in the news had been accused of sexual harassment and sexual assault, I knew Oleanna needed to be performed.”
The play begins with Carol coming to John’s office to address her difficulty in understanding the content of his course, including the content found in his own book. Over the course of her visit, certain words and actions of John’s rubs Carol the wrong way and she accuses him of sexual harassment in addition to being sexist and pornographic.
These accusations hurt his chance at getting tenure which in turn hurt his chance of closing on his new house. John angrily grabs hold of Carol at the end of Act II in frustration over these comments. Carol then files attempted-rape charges against John due to this action.
In Act III she offers to drop the charges if he complies with the request of her and a group of her peers to remove certain books from the college, including his own. John is outraged by this, refuses and tells her to leave his office.
Before she leaves, John’s phone rings and Carol overhears him calling his wife “baby.” After telling him not to refer to his wife that way, John loses it, physically and verbally abuses her and almost hits her over the head with a chair before realizing what he had just done. The play closes out with Carol on the ground repeating the words, “Yes…that’s right.”
There wasn’t much deliberation in choosing this play. As Peters mentioned in the playbill, he felt it was both relevant and important to perform at this time. Co-director Sam Corby felt the same way.
“It sounded like a great project and something that was poignant and I think it’s important to do poignant pieces in times of uncertainty,” said Corby.
The fact that it was a two-person play gave it a different dynamic from other plays.
“The rewards are you get to work closer with the actors and you really get to focus more on character development,” said Peters.
Peters also refers to the two-person aspect as one of the challenges especially given the way “Oleanna” was written. Mamet wrote it in a complicated way so the audience wouldn’t necessarily know who is right and who is wrong right off the bat.
“The disadvantage I think is the same thing, you’re working with two people…I think with this we had to really work on subtlety and subtext,” said Peters.
Peters also mentioned how having only two performers gave the production a different feel in that it felt like there were more than two directors.
“Since it’s just two people it was more on them to kind of figure out their characters,” said Peters. “They were guiding us and we were guiding them so it was almost like we were all kind of directors in a way.”
For Martino, this was not his first show with the Manhattan College Players and it won’t be his last either.
“I love to do shows,” said Martino. “I have been a part of quite a few now; student-run and mainstage. I like being part of this stuff; acting and whatnot.”
The fact that “Oleanna” was performed by the MC Players as a play reading made it a lot easier to prepare since all the lines are read off the script. At the same time, however, it does require creativity to make everything flow well.
“People can’t really move around that much because they have to be reading off the script,” said Martino. “So you got to try and make it artistic and creative within the confines of having the script.”
The MC Players have a few one-act plays that they will perform in the spring semester in additional to their annual spring musical.
As for their first performance of 2018, they were happy with the show they ended up putting on.
“This play was very interesting to do and I’m very happy that we were given the opportunity to do this,” said Corby.