Monday, July 13, 2009



7/12/09SundayJuly122009 6:47:31 PM

Sunday, July 12, 2009

By Wayne Kurtz

“Staging violence in theatre”

Taught by Professor Steve Rothman at CSLA

Summer 2009

OLEANNA by David Mamet


COSTUME DESIGN Catherine Zuber


DIRECTOR Doug Hughes

Starring Bill Pullman (John) and Julia Stiles (Carol)

So, I’m thinkin’…Things are going too smoothly for me –I found free parking across the street, I was able to get a $20 theatre ticket, I had a very pleasant conversation with an actress named Jami, and the moon was so pleasant in the summer sky, even in Los Angeles. My basic trust and distrust of the Universe came into play as this assignment was to see “Oleanna” in the perspective of “staging violence in theatre.” This is not Camelot.

Fast forward to the ending: My seat was in the A row, seat 31, as I was literally five feet from the wooden stage. I could see the spit, leaving the mouth of Bill Pullman as he spoke and could count the creases in Julia Stiles dress pants. I was not so sure if I wanted to be this close to a Greek tragedy. The ending shocked me, even though I knew, instinctively, that it was coming. The University professor threw his female student onto his desk and across the room. I had already prepped myself an early exit up the stairs and vowed not to jump on the stage and protect this actress from this abuse. I was close enough to see Julia give an awkward look back to Bill as they took their theatrical bows to the audience. (Julia had cried profusely, in an earlier scene, as I have literally no defense for a woman, crying). Her face was flushed and there was tension and shame, even though this was acting. After all, this man had just thrown her on his desk and across the room and was ready to finish her off with a steel chair. Pause…I abhor violence, especially against women, the elderly and children. I know this was a play but it happened right in front of me and I could not sleep last night. I realize that these things occur, frequently, in life, but I do not understand why and how to stop violence, in any way. I could not sleep last night as I dozed off at five am when the coolness came along with the morning sunlight.

Reverse to the beginning: A nice change for me to be sitting, albeit alone, in a fancy theatre in downtown Los Angeles. Was I being rewarded for something that I was not even aware of? Should I not end a complete sentence with a dangling preposition, as I was taught at Cal Berkeley as an English Literature major? Chisa as they say in Italian = who knows and who cares…? Answer: no one.

I could intimately “relate” to both the University professor and the female student. Or, should I say, “his female student?” (possessive, ya know) In essence, they were both right and they were both wrong. I am both a teacher and a university student as I could see myself, unfortunately, in both characters.

For me, the University professor was far too naïve. I had a Shakespeare professor my senior year at Cal, named James Battersby. He was absolutely brilliant as a guest lecturer. Maybe, just maybe, he was seeking tenure as well. One day, Battersby shows up to class with a black eye and took the whole class to explain where he had inherited this shiner: his wife had punched him in the face after learning that he had spent the night with his paramour. That lecture has stayed in my mind since 1969, far past the usual 20 days for most academic material. He would not even consider such a literary jaunt these days. Bill Pullman, in this play, made similar “mistakes” in a very politically correct world: you leave your faculty door open, always; you never try to “save” your students; you never make special “arrangements” or feel sorry for your students; you never touch a student, never. Of course, I think these edicts are 100% inhuman and Fascist, but that is the academic/legal reality that we live in due to sue-happy students and a plethora of blood-thirsty lawyers in California, especially in Los Angeles. Just count the number of yellow pages for attorneys in the phone book. You’ll see.

Also, for me, the female student (Julia Stiles) was over-the-top as well. This means that her vocabulary was not one of a university student; she brought a phony agenda with her into the professor’s office; her false rhetoric and crocodile tears confused me to no-end. She seemed to be bi-polar to and maybe a little Machiavellian. It was sad to understand that she believed in the political correctness-Fascism that she used to destroy a University professor’s life. I still would have jumped onto the stage to save her, if she had asked me to.

Following in the non-sequitur Buddhist/James Joyce-stream-of-consciousness tradition of paying homage to seemingly-small-and-irrelevant facts in life, I say this: “the Devil is in the details” and all of these little things add up to good theatre –I remember some of the names on the bookshelves on the set as being from a University English professor’s office (The “New Yorker,” obscure literary criticism books, and twelve copies of his own published book); I liked the way that the Venetian blinds opened and closed as a transition between the scenes and the blind second from the right side had stuck in between acts II and II; Julia’s wardrobe was masterful as she tugged at her oversized sweater when she was shy and had blue polka dots on her “innocent-girly” tennis shoes; when she came back with “her group” to file a grievance, Julia sported high black boots with thick soles –she meant business; her beautiful blonde hair had fluctuated between being in a bun and flying freely in a ponytail; the University buildings in the background reminded me of the University of Chicago on the South Side of town –gray and stoical; the demeanor and timeline of the day went from morning to night on this background as well –it was an omen of things-to-come; I liked the way that Bill the professor sported a wrinkled shirt in the final act (or is it scene?) as he had not gone home that night because of this conflict and slept nervously in his clothes.

In conclusion, I typed in the dark last night these words into my cell phone –paternal perogative. I thought that this was the hyperbole of modern political correctness, from a student’s point-of-view. Yet, there was an ounce of truth in everything that both characters had pontificated: it only takes one bogus complaint to ruin the career of a student OR a university professor. That sad reality, my friends, is the definition of a Pyrrhic victory.

I need to thank people like Michael, Suzanne, Ilia, Amirah and other close friends who have complimented me on my writing. I sincerely appreciate your genuine support…Wayne

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Auditions: Theatre UAF 9.8.06

scene one

JOHN is talking on the phone. CAROL is seated across the desk from him.

JOHN (on phone): And what about the land. (Pause) The land. And what about the land? (Pause) What about it? (Pause) No. I don’t understand. Well, yes, I’m I’m … no, I’m sure it’s signif … I’m sure it’s significant. (Pause) Because it’s significant to mmmmmm … did you call Jerry? (Pause) Because … no, no, no, no, no. What did they say…? Did you speak to the real estate … where is she…? Well, well, all right. Where are her notes? Where are the notes we took with her. (Pause) I thought you were? No. No, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that, I just thought that I saw you, when we were there … what…? I thought I saw you with a pencil. WHY NOW? Is what I’m say … well, that’s why I say “call Jerry.” Well, I can’t right now, be … no, I didn’t schedule any … Grace: I didn’t … I’m well aware … Look: Look. Did you call Jerry? Will you call Jerry…? Because I can’t now. I’ll be there, I’m sure I’ll be there in fifteen, in twenty. I intend to. No, we aren’t going to lose the, we aren’t going to lose the house. Look: look, I’m not minimizing it. The “easement.” Did she say “easement”? (Pause) What did she say; is it a “term of art,” are we bound by it … I’m sorry … (Pause) are: we: yes. Bound by … Look: (He checks his watch.) before the other side goes home, all right? “a term of art.” Because: that’s right (Pause) The yard for the boy. Well, that’s the whole … Look: I’m going to meet you there … (He checks his watch.) Is the realtor there? All right, tell her to show you the basement again. Look at the this because … Bec … I’m leaving in, I’m leaving in ten or fifteen … Yes. No, no, I’ll meet you at the new … That’s a good. If he thinks it’s necc … you tell Jerry to meet … All right? We aren’t going to lose the deposit. All right? I’m sure it’s going to be … (Pause) I hope so. (Pause) I love you, too. (Pause) I love you, too. As soon as … I will. (He hangs up.) (He bends over the desk and makes a note.) (He looks up.) (To CAROL:) I’m sorry…

[ first mono, act 1 ]

.... scene 2

CAROL: How can you deny it. You did it to me. Here. You did… You confess. You love the Power. To deviate. To invent, to transgress … to transgress whatever norms have been established for us. And you think it’s charming to “question” in yourself this taste to mock and destroy. But you should question it. Professor. And you pick those things which you feel advance you: publication, tenure, and the steps to get them you call “harmless rituals.” And you perform those steps. Although you say it is hypocrisy. But to the aspirations of your students. Of hardworking students, who come here, who slave to come here – you have no idea what it cost me to come to this school – you mock us. You call education “hazing,” and from your so-protected, so-elitist seat you hold our confusion as a joke, and our hopes and efforts with it. Then you sit there and say “what have I done?” And ask me to understand that you have aspirations too. But I tell you. I tell you. That you are vile. And that you are exploitative. And if you possess one ounce of that inner honesty you describe in your book, you can look in yourself and see those things that I see. And you can find revulsion equal to my own. Good day. (She prepares to leave the room.)

[ p28 ]

Carol: Why do you hate me? Because you think me wrong? No. Because I have, you think, power over you. Listen to me. Listen to me, Professor (pause) It is the power that you hate. So deeply that, that any atmosphere of free discussion is impossible. It s not unlikely. It's impossible. Isn't it? Now. The thing which you find so cruel is the selfsame process of selection I, and my group, go through every day of our lives. In admittance to school. In our tests, in our class rankings Is it unfair? I can't tell you. But, if it is fair. Or even if it is unfortunate but necessary for us, then, by God, so must it be for you. (pause) You write of your responsibility to the young. Treat us with respect, and that will show you your responsibility. You write that education is just hazing. (pause) But we worked to get to this school. (pause) And some of us. (pause) Overcame prejudices. Economic, sexual, you cannot begin to imagine. And endured humiliations I pray that you and those you love never will encounter. (pause) To gain admittance here. To pursue that same dream of security you pursue. We, who, who are, at any moment, in danger of being deprived of it. By the administration. By the teachers. By you. By, say, one low grade, that keeps us out of graduate school; by one, say, one capricious or inventive answer on our parts, which, perhaps, you don t find amusing. Now you know, do you see? What it is to be subject to that power. Who do you think I am? To come here and be taken in by a smile. You little yapping fool. You think I want revenge. I don t want revenge. I WANT UNDERSTANDING.

.... scene 3.

CAROL: As full well they should. You don’t understand? You’re angry? What has led you to this place? Not your sex. Not your race. Not your class. YOUR OWN ACTIONS. And you’re angry. You ask me here. What do you want? You want to “charm” me. You want to “convince” me. You want me to recant. I will not recant. Why should I…? What I say is right. You tell me, you are going to tell me that you have a wife and child. You are going to say that you have a career and that you’ve worked for twenty years for this. Do you know what you’ve worked for? Power. For power. Do you understand? And you sit there, and you tell me stories. About your house, about all the private schools, and about privilege, and how you entitled. To buy, to spend, to mock, to summon. All your stories. All your silly weak guilt, it’s all about privilege; and you won’t know it. Don’t you see? You worked twenty years for the right to insult me. And you feel entitled to be paid for it. Your Home. Your Wife … Your sweet “deposit” on your house…

JOHN: Don’t you have feelings?

[ 35 ]


JOHN: Give me the list. (She does so. He reads.)

CAROL: I think you’ll find…

JOHN: I’m capable of reading it. Thank you.

CAROL: We have a number of texts we need re…

JOHN: I see that.

CAROL: We’re amenable to…

JOHN: Aha. Well, let me look over the … (He reads.)

CAROL: I think that…

JOHN: LOOK. I’m reading your demands. All right?! (He reads) (Pause) You want to ban my book?

CAROL: We do not…

JOHN (Of list): It says here…

CAROL: …We want it removed from inclusion as a representative example of the university.

JOHN: Get out of here.

CAROL: If you put aside the issues of personalities.

JOHN: Get the fuck out of my office.

CAROL: No, I think I would reconsider.

JOHN: …you think you can.

CAROL: We can and we will. Do you want our support? That is the only quest…

JOHN: …to ban my book…?

CAROL: …that is correct…

JOHN: …this … this is a university … we …

CAROL: …and we have a statement … which we need you to … (She hands him a sheet of paper.)

JOHN: No, no. It’s out of the question. I’m sorry. I don’t know what I was thinking of. I want to tell you something. I’m a teacher. I am a teacher. Eh? It’s my name on the door, and I teach the class, and that’s what I do. I’ve got a book with my name on it. And my son will see that book someday. And I have a respon … No, I’m sorry I have a responsibility … to myself, to my son, to my profession… I haven’t been home for two days, do you know that? Thinking this out.

CAROL: …you haven’t?

JOHN: I’ve been, no. If it’s of interest to you. I’ve been in a hotel. Thinking. (The phone starts ringing.) Thinking…

CAROL: …you haven’t been home?

JOHN: …thinking, do you see.


JOHN: And, and, I owe you a debt, I see that now. (Pause) You’re dangerous, you’re wrong and it’s my job … to say no to you. That’s my job. You are absolutely right. You want to ban my book? Go to hell, and they can do whatever they want to me.

CAROL: …you haven’t been home in two days…

JOHN: I think I told you that.

CAROL: …you’d better get that phone. (Pause) I think that you should pick up the phone. (Pause)

(JOHN picks up the phone.)

JOHN (on phone): Yes. (Pause) Yes. Wh … I. I. I had to be away. All ri … did they wor … did they worry ab … No. I’m all right, now, Jerry. I’m f … I got a little turned around, but I’m sitting here and … I’ve got it figured out. I’m fine. I’m fine don’t worry about me. I got a little bit mixed up. But I am not sure that it’s not a blessing. It cost me my job? Fine. Then the job was not worth having. Tell Grace that I’m coming home and everything is fff… (Pause) What? (Pause) What? (Pause) What do you mean? WHAT? Jerry … Jerry. They … Who, who, what can they do…? (Pause) NO. (Pause) NO. They can’t do th… What do you mean? (Pause) But how… (Pause) She’s, she’s, she’s here with me. To … Jerry. I don’t underst… (Pause) (He hangs up.) (To CAROL:) What does this mean?

CAROL: I thought you knew.

JOHN: What. (Pause) What does it mean. (Pause)

CAROL: You tried to rape me. (Pause) According to the law. (Pause)

JOHN: …what…?

CAROL: You tried to rape me. I was leaving this office, you “pressed” yourself into me. You “pressed” your body into me.


CAROL: My Group has told your lawyer that we may pursue criminal charges.

JOHN: …no…

CAROL: …under the statute. I am told. It was battery.

JOHN: …no…

CAROL: Yes. And attempted rape. That’s right. (Pause)

JOHN: I think that you should go.

CAROL: Of course. I thought you knew.

JOHN: I have to talk to my lawyer.

CAROL: Yes. Perhaps you should. 
(The phone rings again.) (Pause)

JOHN: (Picks up phone. Into phone:) Hello? I … Hello…? I … Yes, he just called. No … I. I can’t talk to you now, Baby. (To CAROL:) Get out.

CAROL: …your wife…?

JOHN: …who it is is no concern of yours. Get out. (To phone:) No, no, it’s going to be all right. I. I can’t talk now, Baby. (To CAROL:) Get out of here.

CAROL: I’m going.

JOHN: Good.

CAROL (exiting): …and don’t call your wife “baby.”

JOHN: What?

CAROL: Don’t call your wife baby. You heard what I said.

(CAROL starts to leave the room. JOHN grabs her and begins to beat her.)

JOHN: You vicious little bitch. You think you can come in here with your political correctness and destroy my life?

(He knocks her to the floor.)

After how I treated you…? You should be … Rape you …? Are you kidding me…?

(He picks up a chair, raises it above his head, and advances on her.)

I wouldn’t touch you with a ten-foot pole. You little cunt…

(She cowers on the floor below him. Pause. He looks down at her. He lowers the chair. He moves to his desk, and arranges the papers on it. Pause. He looks over at her.)


(Pause. She looks at him.)

CAROL: Yes. That’s right.

(She looks away from him, and lowers her head. To herself:) …yes. That’s right.


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