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Not a Mamet fan

Keith Barber makes Mamet’s Oleanna (Triad Stage) sound like “backlash” theater — which it perhaps surreptitiously is — and therefore leaves me very uninspired to go see it [“Triad Stage’s Oleanna does justice to Mamet’s vision”; Oct. 28. 2009; by Keith T. Barber]. A male professor and a female student having a direct and revealing tete-a-tete on issues of sexual power is actually an intriguing theme for a play. However, the moral of the story — the “almost expected” albeit somehow “shocking climax” that an “innocent person’s life could be ruined in the name of political correctness” — eliminates any chance of opening up channels for dialogue in the workplace or, for that matter, in the private bedrooms of men and women. Why would any intelligent person use morality — or better, a moralizing theme — to surreptitiously critique the second wave of the feminist movement which was attacked in the ’80s for being overly moral? But I digress.

A woman who has as much power as a man is seen, from the male point of view, as having larger-than-life powers. A woman who turns the tables and knows how to wield power as effectively as he who is in traditional position of power is hyperbolically represented as the “the cold, calculating coed” who “methodically exploits” the weaknesses of her interlocutor professor. The male has now usurped the position of victim. He’s being punished for nothing, i.e. “[a]ll because he broke the rules of teacher-student decorum.” How riduculously transparent!?

A level playing field of power would perhaps make sexual harrassment obsolete. This is the space where the conversation between the sexes gets interesting, at least for those of us looking for, and open to, interesting encounters.

My experience of sexual harrassment in the academy — and I’ve been there a good number of years — is that the playing field is not as level as this play would represent. Yet I’m certain that it is much better than it was before the feminist movement put the issue of sexual harrassment onto the table (which is not to say that the vestiges of that movement cannot or should not be criticized).

By the way, if the said professor brings in a lot of revenue to the university, his hand will be slapped, but the university will not fire him. It is actually quite embarrassing to lodge a complaint about being sexually harrassed. A very old and staid distorted sexual traditon has it that any kind of sexual attention makes the average female feel like she’s “brought it on.”

There are lots of complicated tales out there to tell on this topic: female students who chose to say yes to their professor’s amorous overtures because they are attracted to him. Then there are female professors who seduce their male students. Oleanna has got to be one of the most prescriptive and therefore the most boring. My guess is that Barber’s review just parrots this inherent flaw of the play.

Audrey Berlowitz, Greensboro

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