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Flipside of feminism

ELIZABETH ROY

Masquerade's ``Oleana" effectively portrayed misuse of power through a teacher-student conflict.



FRESH LOOK: The second carried no trace of the earlier production. — PHOTO: M. Srinath

David Mamet's ``Oleana," with its theme of political correctness and sexual harassment, is a good script for production. Professor John is edgy as he awaits confirmation of his tenure. Carol, an undergraduate, has flunked his class and come to him for clarifications and ways to improve her grades. A preoccupied John sees no point in education for the likes of Carol. She is crushed and the professor feels remorse.

The relationship between the professor and the student breaks down, destroying mutual respect. The result is conflict coloured by gender, generation gap and class struggle. On the advice of her friends Carol complains about John to the tenure committee. Aggressive impulses begin to play. In her newfound power mode she slaps him with charges of rape. John loses his job, his house, his wife...

Five years ago Masquerade presented the play at the Museum Theatre with a different cast and crew but directed by Krishna Kumar S. (KK). It was interesting to note that KK's second production was mounted and designed with no ideas carried over from the first one. KK as the Professor and Manasi Subramaniam as Carol did a good job and held the audience attention for most of the hour and a half. They managed to portray effectively the evolving shift of power and question the basic fabric of society.

The self-assured, distracted John of Act 1 is confused and dumbfounded in Act 2 when Carol, politically correct and feminist oriented, topples his career. In Act 3 the reversal of power is complete. Everything John has said or done is interpreted as politically incorrect, sexual harassment and even rape.

Jacob Jebaraj's sets dictated the tone of the play. The professor's office smacked of a local university - particularly the white yardage that hung in lieu of a curtain. The furniture confirmed it. As the play progressed it became possible to shift the action of the play mentally to a JNU-like campus. The play would have impacted more if KK had gone in for an adaptation. The group of students (that put Carol up to aggression), who indulged in endless mime, was an interpolation that distracted irritatingly and slowed the play down.

The evening looked at institutions of higher education, which wield academic power to suppress and subjugate students. It also looked at the misuse of radical feminism, which in turn leads to political incorrectness and misinterpretation of ideology.

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