Getting what you deserve
Through Oct. 11 at Mandell Theater, Lowndes Shakespeare Center, 812 E. Rollins St.

Considered one of David Mamet's most provocative and controversial dramas, Oleanna is a work in which the inability of people to communicate effectively with one another becomes the root cause of personal and professional damage. It's also a play that examines the power relationships between teacher and student, adult and child, and man and woman. When originally produced in the early 1990s, it resonated with the smoldering fires of the feminist movement and became a flashpoint in the never-ending battle between the sexes.

Under the direction of John DiDonna, a current production of Oleanna by the Empty Spaces Theatre Co. is still a riveting drama between two confrontational characters, even though the passage of time has somewhat diffused its sizzling political import. Veteran Orlando actor Dennis Neal plays John, a rather pedantic but by all appearances entirely conventional college professor who is attempting to achieve the security of tenure, while attending to the needs of his students as well as family matters. As written by Mamet and played by Neal, John is the adult in the room — empathetic, congenial and professional.

Trenell Mooring performs the character of Carol, his emotionally wounded pupil who, in the opening scenes, acts out the pain of a severely injured self-image via childish tantrums and incoherent rants. While John attempts to mentor Carol, her responses to his ministrations appear completely at odds with his intentions; she even goes so far as to accuse him of sexual harassment because he put his hands on her shoulders to calm her. By the dénouement, Carol has succeeded in skewing the healthy norms of master and subordinate, destroying John's dreams of tenure with her accusations of impropriety. And nothing the man has said or done warrants the result that he must now accept.

Mamet is not interested in presenting us with an ambiguous situation in which both characters have equally sympathetic points of view. What the playwright wishes to convey is that within any social or political zeitgeist, truth is dependent upon how the winds of thought and belief are blowing that particular day. So while cloaked in the agenda of feminism and anti-elitism, Carol's lust for power is really the same age-old fight between those who believe they are on the bottom and those who seem to be on top. As always, oppression is in the eye of the beholder and justice is ever a fickle maid.

—Al Krulick

—Al Krulick

Women working together
A Confluence
Through Nov. 1 at Maitland Art Center, 231 W. Packwood Ave., Maitland

While mortgages, money and men occupied many of our minds this stressful summer, four women retreated into themselves and created A Confluence.  Brigan Gresh, Vicki Jones, Dina Mack and Anna McCambridge's self-imposed seclusion resulted in a transcendental experience that is about the algorithm behind the art as much as it is about the aesthetics of the artwork itself.

The artists began with individual themes such as "dermis" (Mack), "apostrophized trees" (Jones), "grief over loss of a loved one" (McCambridge) and "poetic diurnal milestones" (Gresh).  Disparate and unrelated themes, perhaps — but the four brave women, eager to try something new, unite them in a narrative visual experience that unfolds in the center's three rooms.

In the Long Gallery, the artists' individuality begins to dissolve, and a blended narrative takes over. A female figure, at first sadly seated on a rooted pillow, stands in the second panel, turned to her right, with cathartic water spraying down, then disappears into the mist, perhaps temporarily transformed into an owl, floating alone in a rowboat. She reappears in the fourth panel, looking to her left this time, possibly to the future, reborn and ready to face the unknown.  The artists' interlocking themes layer these panels and lend them a mystical quality, accentuated by the owl's presence.

A video infuses the show with atmospheric, minor-key tones, portraying clips of the artists working on the show with an anti—Hard Day's Night attitude. The next room becomes an installation for the four women, who write about love, muse about life, blow off some steam and otherwise fill a narrow layer with text, replacing the grief of loss expressed earlier with a whirl of the here-and-now.

In the final room, the artists return to their own métier: Mack's dermis is transformed from opaque to translucent, filled now with the legs of a bee and pumpkin seeds; McCambridge's beautiful animals symbolize blessings such as "strength" (a deer), "wisdom," "love" and others. Jones, who invested trees with personalities in the beginning, finally lets buds be buds and pods be pods, while Gresh, whose force seemed clearly felt throughout the gallery, appears at the end to be bled nearly white, with tiny curled fragments of thread embedded in small, glossy white boxes.

Content prevails over commerce in this show; the crisp, square, mostly white panels belie a rigorous process. Perhaps the rigidity of the format helped the artists sublimate their egos to unite and create a story that curator Richard Colvin rightly calls "greater than the sum of its chapters." 

— Rex Thomas

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