The essence of art is the freedom to create something new, something fresh from existing foundations. Art, in its many forms, brings us joy, brings us pleasure when it provides a glimpse of the heretofore unseen, unexperienced. Basically, it is the job of an artist to provide a new take, a new perspective.
It was a delight to read the positive review by Mike Fischer in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel of David Mamet’s “Oleanna” as interpreted by Director Erin Eggers for the Alchemist Theater. The headline for the review “Alchemist Delivers Intense Oleanna” was followed by Fischer describing Eggers’ directorial debut as gripping. A huge success for an artist. Exactly what an audience would crave, a fresh take on a decades-old show.
In this two person show, the review lauds Eggers for the daring decision to cast a man in the role of Carol, originally scripted as a woman. This is a brilliant example of the director, an artist, using the basics (the script) in a new way to address relevant societal issues while preserving every word of the original artist’s (Mamet’s) work. According to the review, Mamet’s script lends itself to this flexible casting decision when the character of Carol refers to herself as “of some doubtful sexuality” and as “having overcome sexual prejudices and humiliations”.
The Alchemist Theater took care not to have any pre-show spoilers so it was a treat for the audience to encounter this casting surprise when the curtain rose.
Interested in seeing this unique performance? You cannot. “Mamet Shuts Down Production” was the title of the adjacent article on the same page in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The curtain has closed forever on this particular production. After only one performance, the production was canceled when the Alchemist Theater received a cease-and-desist letter from Dramatists Play Service on behalf of Mamet as a result of the casting decision. This seems to violate the essential spirit of art. Cutting edge artists are in a constant state of creation and reinvention based on the basics. This is how they achieve the wow factor, what makes us pause and reflect, think, feel … the raison d’etre of art.