Famed playwright David Mamet’s representatives sent a cease and desist order to a local theater in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, demanding that it terminate production of his play Oleanna. Mr. Mamet was not happy with the fact that the play’s local producers chose to cast a man in the lead female role.
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Dramatists Play Service, which represents Mamet and is authorized to license playhouses to produce his works, sent the order.
The Alchemist Theater complied after only one performance. Its owners, Erica Case and Aaron Kopec, released the following statement explaining why they changed the gender of one of the play’s lead characters from female to male:
“We excitedly brought this story to the stage because even though it was written years ago, the unfortunate story that it tells is still relevant today. We auditioned for this show looking for the best talent, not looking for a gender. When Ben Parman [the actor in question] auditioned, we saw the reality that this relationship, which is more about power, is not gender-specific but gender-neutral.”
They felt that the crux of the story was about how one person in a given relationship comes to dominate another. This, in their eyes, meant that it did not matter if the couple in question was heterosexual or same sex.
Plays are almost always open to interpretation. Many classic are reimagined. There have been plenty of movies produced based on Shakespeare, which have set his plays in modern times. But Case and Kopec have learned the hard way that this may not apply when the original author is still alive.
The duo professed, “We stayed true to each of David Mamet’s powerful words and did not change the character of Carol, but allowed the reality of gender and relationship fluidity to add to the impact of the story. We are so very proud of the result, of both Ben and David Sapiro’s talent, and Erin Eggers’ direction.”
Oleanna is a two character play with one man and one woman. The man is a university professor who is accused by the woman, one of his students, of sexual harassment, after she comes to him for guidance. Because of the complaint, the professor loses his job and his family. The play implies that the student lied as the result of having been encouraged to do so by individuals with an agenda against the professor.
Oleanna premiered in 1992 and starred Mamet’s wife Rebecca Pigeon as the student. Mamet, who is known for his conservative political views, wrote the play in response to his dismay over the public hearings in America on Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court nomination. Thomas was publicly vilified after having been accused of sexual harassment during his 1991 Senate confirmation.
David Alan Mamet, 67, was born to a Jewish family in Chicago. He first came to prominence writing off Broadway plays in the 1970s, and is a founding member of the Atlantic Theater Company. Mamet’s first major hit was in 1984, with Glengarry Glen Ross, for which he won a Pulitzer Prize.
He has written more than thirty plays so far in his career. He began to write screenplays in the 1980s, starting with the remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice. He also wrote for television shows, such as Hill Street Blues.
His directorial debut came in 1987, with House of Games, which he also wrote. As with that movie, Mamet has become known for writing about grifters and crooks. He is also regarded for his real life street smart dialogue which has even come to be known as “Mamet speak.”
His wife Rebecca Pidgeon, 48, was born to a Christian family and converted to Judaism.