The Playgoer: Sayonara Oleanna

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Sayonara Oleanna

The Broadway Oleanna has posted a January 3 closing notice. Despite a movie-star cast of its own (Julia Styles and Bill Pullman), it has not lived up to Steady Rain standards for star-driven, two-character 90 minute plays. Last week, it did only 65% capacity, barely more than Brighton Beach when that closed. According to Playbill: "As of the January close date, Oleanna will have played 15 previews and 97 performances."

Maybe the closing notice is a ploy to boost sales. Personally I blame the ad campaign's tag line for being too prophetic: "Whatever Side You Take, You're Wrong!"

Riedel offers his take today, focusing on the backstage bickering over those "Take A Side" talkbacks:

I don't think the talk-backs sold many tickets. But since the show ran just 80 minutes, they were a way of making the evening seem less chintzy. "They definitely added value," says a production source.

Alas, Mamet hated them. He never attended one, but he's against them on principle, believing that his play should stand on its own and not be picked apart by "experts" on the law, feminism and campus sexual harassment policies."The talk-backs added a lot to the show," an investor says, "but we were told by David's agent right after we opened that he didn't like them."

Mamet couldn't stop them. Writers control only the script, not what happens onstage after the final bow. But he had a trump card to play. When the show opened to mixed reviews, the producers had to cut expenses and asked Mamet to waive his royalties. His price? No more talk-backs. Production members are bitter that Mamet nixed something they believed was helping the show.

"This is a play that's supposed to generate controversy, and the audience wanted to talk about it," a source says. "Mamet was basically saying 'F - - - you' to his own audience. We'll never know if the talk-backs could have become a selling point because he shut them down so quickly." (They ended right after the show opened.)

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