Tensions high in harassment film

By Doug Cummings

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Sexual harassment has garnered recent headlines, and it's the subject of playwright David Mamet's ("Glengarry Glen Ross") new film "Oleanna," based on his controversial off-Broadway play. It relates how its subject's alleged perpetrators and victims can exhibit both validity and exaggeration. The main problem is one of miscommunication and the refusal to confront the issue until it explodes.

The story depicts Carol (Debra Eisenstadt), an insecure student who confronts her professor, John (William H. Macy), about her failing grade late one afternoon as he's preparing to go home. Their conversation is one of interruptions, their own and the constant telephone, and John ironically decides to prolong their meeting by turning it into a platform for his own ideas concerning education and scholastic aptitude.

However, John's life is soon turned upside-down when Carol later accuses him of sexual harassment during that meeting.

It's one of the movie's strengths that Carol's accusations, although they take John's statements out of context, make sense given her point of view. Carol takes everything at face value so it's ambiguous whether she honestly feels threatened by John's careless patriarchal condescension or if she merely uses it against him in order to gain power. Regardless, her viewpoint is strongly consistent. Consequently, John's refusal to acknowledge her grievances intensifies his aggression. The movie accurately depicts the rage that can develop between men and women over underlying notions of power and control.

The movie is a two-person show, the only characters being John and Carol. Virtually the only setting is John's office with late-afternoon sunlight falling harshly through the room. The rustic office seems like a world of its own, secluded from the outside world, and creates a sense of claustrophobic tension.

William H. Macy ("Things Change") and newcomer Debra Eisenstadt present determined people with hardened opinions. Their rapid-fire conversations are composed of brief interjections and pent up frustrations.

Writer/director David Mamet ("House of Games") stages his actors well, and creates tension from shifting their positions around the room. The space between the actors and their changing stances establish much of the implicit conflict.

"Oleanna" is a challenging film that doesn't provide answers but dramatically illustrates the relevance of the issue. Enjoyably, it's impossible to see this movie and not have it provoke an opinion.

"Oleanna" is showing at The Loft Cinema, 795-7777.

Read Next Article