Influential playwright David Mamet told a theater company in Milwaukee it must cease and desist production of his play Oleanna because the company cast a man to play the female lead.
The play was performed for one show only at the Alchemist Theater before the production was shut down. The letter to the theater company from Mamet’s representatives has not been made public.
The producers issued a statement on Friday:
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 auditioned we saw the reality that this relationship, which is more about power, is not gender-specific but gender-neutral.
Oleanna tells the story of a female undergraduate student who seeks the help of her professor, then accuses him of sexual harassment. He loses his tenure and his family, and it is obvious that others the young woman refers to as her “group” are directing her actions.
Mamet wrote Oleanna in response to the Clarence Thomas hearings, and it was initially presented a year after Thomas was elevated to the Supreme Court. The play caused quite a stir when it first appeared off Broadway in New York. New York Times reviewer Frank Rich wrote that the play would likely “provoke more arguments than any play this year.”
David Mamet is one of America’s most celebrated playwrights. He wrote Glengarry Glen Ross and Speed the Plow. He also wrote the movies The Verdict, House of Cards, Ronin, Wag the Dog, and many others. He won a Pulitzer Prize and was nominated for both Tony and Academy awards.
A lifelong New York and Hollywood liberal, Mamet famously announced in 2008 that he was no longer a “brain-dead liberal.”
Two years ago, Mamet published The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture, a book-length treatise on his political awakening.
This is not the first time Mamet has stopped production of his plays over gender issues. In 1999, he sent a cease and desist letter to a New York theater company that wanted to stage an all-woman production of Goldberg Street.