Criticism: Oleanna (1992) - Essay

David Mamet

Elaine Showalter (review date 6 November 1992)

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: Showalter, Elaine. “Acts of Violence: David Mamet and the Language of Men.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4675 (6 November 1992): 16-17.

[In the following excerpt, Showalter characterizes Oleanna as lopsided and misogynist and finds the female character a one-dimensional rendering of a woman.]

By all counts, this should be a championship season for the playwright David Mamet. The movie version of his Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Glengarry Glen Ross, opened to rave reviews and a prediction of an Oscar for Jack Lemmon; there's great anticipation of another movie, Hoffa, for which he wrote the screenplay, and which is expected to garner...

(The entire section is 2017 words.)

Gerald Weales (review date 4 December 1992)

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: Weales, Gerald. “Gender Wars: Oleanna & Desdemona.Commonweal 119, no. 21 (4 December 1992): 15, 20.

[In the following excerpt, Weales commends the actors and Mamet's direction of Oleanna and briefly discusses the play's controversial issues.]

The characters in David Mamet's Oleanna have names—John and Carol—but they might as well have been called professor and student or man and woman or accused and accuser, or simply victim 1 and victim 2. Judging by the conversations I overheard as I left the Orpheum Theater, the play is going to stir up a dollop of controversy. Depending on where one stands, John is either a...

(The entire section is 692 words.)

Daniel Mufson (review date 1993)

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: Mufson, Daniel. “Sexual Perversity in Viragos.” Theater 24, no. 1 (1993): 111-13.

[In the following appraisal, Mufson surveys critical response to Mamet's Oleanna.]

In his October 12, 1992, New Republic column, Robert Brustein wrote, “Controversy makes stars of artists for all the wrong reasons, distracting our attention from debates that should be more aesthetic than political.” This comment, typical of Brustein's oft-stated contempt for “activist plays,” becomes more complicated given his role as coproducer of David Mamet's Oleanna, which, from its premiere at the American Repertory Theatre last May to its run in New York this past...

(The entire section is 2110 words.)

Alisa Solomon (review date 2 November 1993)

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: Solomon, Alisa. “He Said/He Said.” Village Voice 38, no. 44 (2 November 1993): 110, 115.

[In the following review, Solomon questions the moral perspective of Oleanna and the negative view it takes regarding women and sexual abuse.]

First of all, it's cheap: two actors, one simple set, no technical effects. Second, it has raked in profits from commercial productions in New York, on tour, and in London. Does it need any other qualification to be a favorite choice for nonprofit regional seasons?

But these practical, even cynical calculations are not the reasons artistic directors give to explain why David Mamet's Oleanna, going...

(The entire section is 1258 words.)

Marc Silverstein (essay date May 1995)

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: Silverstein, Marc. “‘We're Just Human’: Oleanna and Cultural Crisis.” South Atlantic Review 60, no. 2 (May 1995): 103-20.

[In the following essay, Silverstein presents Oleanna as socially conservative, stressing that while Mamet strives for basic humanism, the play actually champions conformity and isolates otherness as deviant.]

The perennial critical question of how to evaluate the misogynistic overtones of David Mamet's work has been raised with renewed urgency by the controversy surrounding the commercial (and largely critical) success of Oleanna.1Oleanna concerns a female student's rather tenuous charge of...

(The entire section is 6850 words.)

Alain Piette (essay date 1995)

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: Piette, Alain. “The Devil's Advocate: David Mamet's Oleanna and Political Correctness.” In Staging Difference: Cultural Pluralism in American Theatre and Drama, edited by Marc Maufort, pp. 173-87. New York: Peter Lang, 1995.

[In the following essay, Piette maintains that in Oleanna Mamet explores how “political correctness” can deprive language of its power to communicate and inform.]

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.

Old proverb

Ever since his work for the stage first received critical attention, most noticeably with Jack Kroll's 1977...

(The entire section is 6163 words.)

Thomas H. Goggans (essay date winter 1997)

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: Goggans, Thomas H. “Laying Blame: Gender and Subtext in David Mamet's Oleanna.Modern Drama 40, no. 4 (winter 1997): 433-41.

[In the following essay, Goggans investigates small hints in Oleanna that can provide background information about Carol's past and thereby help explain her seemingly inconsistent and irrational behavior.]

The Bitch Set Him Up”—that's what Daniel Mufson thought the working title of Oleanna could have been, after he appraised the critical responses to the play's 1992 New York production, adding that “one can expect few other reactions when Carol is such a viper.”1 Mamet's presentation...

(The entire section is 3517 words.)

Sandra Tomc (essay date May 1997)

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: Tomc, Sandra. “David Mamet's Oleanna and the Way of the Flesh.” Essays in Theatre/Etudes Théâtrales 15, no. 2 (May 1997): 163-75.

[In the following essay, Tomc explores the tension between the “conventionalism” of Mamet's views on performance art and the controversial nature of Oleanna.]

In On Directing Film, David Mamet takes issue with countercultural theatre, performance art, and film for their cultivation of controversy. These art genres resort to provocation, he believes, because they have abandoned the principles of “story.” “It is our nature to want to make sense of … events—we can't help it. The human mind would make...

(The entire section is 6642 words.)

Montana Katz (essay date 1997)

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: Katz, Montana. “Truth or Consequences: Mamet's Oleanna in the Real World.” In The Erotics of Institution, edited by Regina Barreca and Deborah Denenholz Morse, pp. 156-65. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1997.

[In the following essay, Katz claims that Mamet's depiction of sexual harassment, the search for truth, and gender relations in Oleanna does not effectively translate into real-life situations and actually reinforces stereotypes of female aggression.]

David Mamet's play Oleanna hit the stage in the aftermath of the confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas in 1992-93. With so much coverage during and after the...

(The entire section is 4092 words.)

Carla J. McDonough (essay date 1997)

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: McDonough, Carla J. “David Mamet: The Search for Masculine Space.” In Staging Masculinity: Male Identity in Contemporary American Drama, pp. 94-8. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, Inc., 1997.

[In the following excerpt, McDonough contends that Mamet's one-dimensional rendering of Carol in Oleanna reinforces male distrust and resentment of women in the workplace and academia.]

The hysterical fear of women and the feminine that pervades the world of Mamet's plays makes hardly surprising his portrait of Carol in Oleanna. Touted by many reviewers, and certainly by advertisers, as a brilliant exposé of sexual harassment, this 1992 play...

(The entire section is 2035 words.)

Richard Badenhausen (essay date fall 1998)

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: Badenhausen, Richard. “The Modern Academy Raging in the Dark: Misreading Mamet's Political Incorrectness in Oleanna.College Literature 25, no. 3 (fall 1998): 1-19.

[In the following essay, Badenhausen explores the breakdown of language and understanding between teacher and student in Oleanna. Badenhausen appraises John's inability and unwillingness to effectively educate and listen to Carol, and draws parallels between this situation and real events that happen in academic circles.]

In discussing the 1992 debut of David Mamet's Oleanna, audiences and critics tended to highlight two features of the play: its indictment of political...

(The entire section is 9384 words.)

Jean Jacques Weber (essay date 1998)

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: Weber, Jean Jacques. “Three Models of Power in David Mamet's Oleanna.” In Exploring the Language of Drama: From Text to Context, Edited by Jonathan Culpepper, Mick Short, and Peter Verdonk, pp. 112-27. New York: Routledge, 1998.

[In the following essay, Weber explores the interaction of the “social context” and the “cognitive context” in Oleanna.]


Oleanna is David Mamet's recent and highly controversial intervention in the political correctness debate. It stages a confrontation between a male professor, John, and his female student, Carol. John is about to be granted tenure and, on the strength of...

(The entire section is 6861 words.)

Thomas E. Porter (essay date spring 2000)

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: Porter, Thomas E. “Postmodernism and Violence in Mamet's Oleanna.Modern Drama 43, no. 1 (spring 2000): 13-31.

[In the following essay, Porter examines how the gender, education, class, and viewpoint differences between John and Carol inexorably lead to their failure to reach true communication and eventually result in violence.]

La déconstruction, c'est l'Amérique.

—Jacques Derrida1

Among the many surprises in David Mamet's controversial play Oleanna, the most shocking is perhaps the professor's violent attack on his student. This sudden eruption is...

(The entire section is 8415 words.)

Robert Skloot (essay date 2001)

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: Skloot, Robert. “Oleanna, or, The Play of Pedagogy.” In Gender and Genre: Essays on David Mamet, edited by Christopher C. Hudgins and Leslie Kane, pp. 95-107. New York: Palgrave, 2001.

[In the following essay, Skloot assesses Oleanna as a play about the educational system's custom of pitting the power and inflexibility of the teacher against the insecurity and marginalization of the student and one possible outcome if these roles are reversed.]

“Teaching is a performative act.”

bell hooks

“That is how they educate us. By osmosis!”...

(The entire section is 5050 words.)

Kellie Bean (essay date 2001)

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: Bean, Kellie. “A Few Good Men: Collusion and Violence in Oleanna.” In Gender and Genre: Essays on David Mamet, edited by Christopher C. Hudgins and Leslie Kane, pp. 109-23. New York: Palgrave, 2001.

[In the following essay, Bean argues that, rather than depicting gender conflicts, Oleanna portrays a clash between John and the Tenure Committee, in which Carol “suffers the violence inspired by the power struggles between men.”]

Although David Mamet's Oleanna (1992) concerns itself with the issue of sexual harassment, criticism of the play has experienced a kind of backlash against interpretations focusing on gender politics. Such...

(The entire section is 6274 words.)

Ira B. Nadel (essay date 2002)

(Drama Criticism)

SOURCE: Nadel, Ira B. “The Playwright as Director: Pinter's Oleanna.The Pinter Review: Annual Essays (2002): 121-28.

[In the following essay, Nadel describes the differences in tone and action between Mamet's original 1992 production of Oleanna and Harold Pinter's London production the following year.]

I am walking slowly in a dense jungle.

Bridget in Pinter's Moonlight

David Mamet's Oleanna touched an American nerve when it premiered at the Hasty Pudding Theatre in Cambridge, Mass. in May 1992 and in New York where it opened the following October. Reaction to the...

(The entire section is 3623 words.)