Art And Culture

The Return of Oleanna

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The Return of Oleanna
The Return of Oleanna

Ten years after David Mamet’s Oleanna was published in 1992, an Iranian theatre director and translator came across the play quite randomly and set out to translate it into Persian.

Ali-Akbar Alizad, who at the time was barely familiar with Mamet, was gripped. He researched the playwright and his Oleanna.

The two character play, featuring John the university professor and Carol his student, highlights the power struggle in discourse. John is accused by Carol of sexual harassment which ultimately costs him his career.

Thematically, Oleanna explores the unquenchable thirst for power and behavioral flaws, most dominantly hypocrisy, Alizad said in a talk with Financial Tribune.

Alizad has now taken the play on stage for the second time since it was first translated in 2005.

The play has received mixed response. Critics say that the underlying messages could have been delivered straight but were clouded in semantic convolutions.

Alizad admits that the translated version “has its problems” and “needs to be revised” but with a pedantic view, “a person’s attention will be diverted from the main story, not just in this play, but in any performance.”

 Not Realistic

Aside from the language, many other aspects also contribute to the fact that Oleanna cannot be classified as a realistic literary work. “The enigmatic plot, the fact that there are few things we know about the setting or the time between acts and the play’s open ending all testify to this,” he said.

“This is complemented by the vague psychological aspects of the characters and their unclear motives.”

A cunning feminist who takes advantage when the chance presents is how Alizad would have described Carol eight years ago when he first took the play on stage.

“Back then her character was so evil that by the end of the play (when John brutally beats her up) the audience would applaud and sigh in relief seeing her demise.”

Almost a decade later, Alizad no longer sees Carol as a gullible feminazi. “I now think she simply has nothing to hide and is brave enough to openly admit to what she really is.”

“To me John now is a deceptive hypocrite, excessively possessive, greedy and power thirsty.”


Shocking as it may sound, Alizad says “it is meaningless to value the taste of the audience,” while quickly clarifying that “this does not mean that the audience isn’t important.”

“Directing has now become difficult and self-censorship is everywhere. Theatre has lost its sense of self-respect and art is sacrificed for the sake of profit.”

People now watch a performance because it casts a certain high-profile actor or actress, the director rued. With this new trend, it’s difficult to say whether the audiences are there for the work itself or just to see their favorite celebrities up-close.

Oleanna is on stage until the end of July at Iranshahr Theatre Hall, located at Art Garden, North Mousavi St., Taleqani Ave., Tehran.