A story of shifting power dynamics and the individual perceptions of events are some of the themes at work in Flying Penguin Productions’ staging of Oleanna at Space Theatre.
Directed by David Mealor, Oleanna has a minimal set consisting of a professor’s desk and office chair on a cleverly orchestrated turnstile stage giving the opportunity for the actors to shine in this two-person performance.
University student Carol (Georgia Laity) has come to her professor, John’s (Renato Musolino) office to talk about her low grades and the possibility of her failing the class. What starts as an awkward confrontation escalates to deep conversations on intellect, the role of the university, the professors, and their students with initial healthy debate. Opinions differ and are misconstrued, and professional lines are murkily crossed throughout the interactions (knowingly or not) culminating in high-stakes emotional warfare on both accounts.
As Carol, Laity gives an electric performance as the emotionally charged student desperate to save her grade and her dream but impeded by the system and those in power. Carol flies off the handle and internalises moments that objectively seem innocuous to begin with but devolve throughout the scenes as they head to their horrifying climax.
Musolino as the professor initially overwhelms Carol with his intelligent and at times condescending discourse. Distracted by his own personal affairs that are likely affecting his actions toward the student, the accusations against him and the destruction of his personal dreams based on actions he cannot deny bring him to breaking point.
As the power shifts between professor and student in each scene, so too do the vantage points on the swivelling stage. This move, albeit simple, was effective at showcasing how each of the characters felt in each scene.
Oleanna resonates with today’s obsession with cancel culture and shines a light on the difficulties of both those who feel marginalised by a system they feel is out to get them and those in power that are there to help them navigate the world but can at times abuse that power. A thought-provoking piece of theatre that leaves you wondering who is at fault?
Oleanna is showing at Adelaide Festival Centre in the Space Theatre until November 26. Get your tickets here.
**** Four stars.