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Asolo Conservatory Student's First "Late Night" Production a Striking Success


SARASOTA – On Monday night, students at the FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training put on the first play in this season's Late Night series, a run of special one-night-only productions put on completely by third-year students in the program. The students chose an ambitious undertaking in Pulitzer-Prize winner David Mamet's Oleanna, a power struggle that examines various perspectives in an alleged sexual harassment incident. The result was nothing short of triumphant. 



Oleanna is classic Mamet, a dialog-driven narrative marked by jarring language and remarkable durations of sustained tension. The two-character play revolves around a college professor named John (Mathew Olson) and a female student Carol (Allie Henkel), who comes to his office to speak with him regarding her struggles in comprehending the material in his class, particularly a book he authored, which is used as one of the texts. 

John, who fashions himself as something of an educational maverick, is about to be tenured by the college and is in the process of closing on his family's dream house when Carol accuses him of a broad array of transgressions, including attempted rape. The play was written in the early 1990's, when the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace had become a focal point in American culture, sparked by such high profile incidents as the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings.

In typical Mamet fashion, the story jerks your sympathies in competing directions courtesy of his attractively-flawed characters who can turn from endearing to repugnant and back at the drop of a dime. One of the most challenging aspects of a Mamet production is pulling off the exaggerated, almost noir-like dialog. No one really speaks like a Mamet character in real life, yet they seem to convey hyper-realistic thoughts and ideas, giving his work a gritty and believable quality that seems to have near universal appeal.

Student-director Maxey Whitehead delivered a Mamet-worthy production that would have pleased audiences on just about any professional stage. Henkel, a rising talent with tremendous potential, was able to perfectly juxtapose Carol's mousy and removed confusion with her calculated and almost sinister control displayed in the second act. As John, Olson captured the self-deluded and narcissistic professor first made famous by William H. Macy in the play's original Broadway production. The budding chemistry between the two actors' carried the pivotal third act to its masterful crescendo.


The full-house audience delivered a well-earned standing ovation and Oleanna will certainly have theater fans' collective interest piqued for the next Late Night offering. The Conservatory's first regular production of the season, The School for Lies, opens October 29.


Dennis Maley is TBT"s editor and featured political columnist. His regular column appears every Thursday and Sunday. He occasionally reviews local theater purely out of love for the art form and claims no particular expertise beyond his considerable experience as an audience member. Click here to visit his column archive. Click here to go to his bio page. He can be reached at dennis.maley@thebradentontimes.com.You can also follow Dennis on Facebook.


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