This weekend, Studio Theatre of Bath takes on David Mamet’s controversial “Oleanna.” It’s the story of a professor and a student. Actions and reactions. Intentions and perceptions. In this era of sexual harassment scandals and the dialogue surrounding them, the subject matter is riveting and current.

I asked Director John Willey what compelled him to take it on. “‘Oleanna’ has been on my wish list to direct since I first saw it back in the 1990s. The riveting, fast paced dialogue for which Mamet is known, and the mounting tension of the show leading to its climax, fascinated me as a captivating and honest exploration of human interaction. The gradual erosion of being able to speak honestly and as a warning to pay full attention and hear each other.

“‘Oleanna’ is a play about so much more than sexual harassment and the pitfalls of political correctness. While these are the events and action of the play, ‘Oleanna’ uses them to explore relationship, and communication when there is an imbalance of power.”

It’s clear that this must be a very challenging play to both direct and perform.

“The script itself presents a huge hurdle for both the director and the actors …,” Willey confirmed. “Conversation is in broken sentences, phrases, interruptions and incomplete thoughts… A lot of our work was spent in understanding where speech overlapped and where instead ran together. As we worked, we quickly realized that the script left those choices wide open for us and that each option and choice we made throughout the script significantly altered and changed not only the feeling and tone of the conversation but the entire impact of the show.”

Actress Letia Fowlie, playing Carol, loves Willey’s directing style. “He sets his vision for a show and will make it clear, but then will allow you to follow your own interpretations and will guide you along the way to help you learn, improve, and enhance the role. The choices we made were incredibly important, and we had many discussions on the characters in this show.”

Willey added, “In speaking of the play, Mamet often used the phrase ‘no matter which side you choose you’re wrong.’ It is so easy to consciously or sub-consciously make either one of these characters the ‘bad’ or the ‘right’ one …

“Working this script forced me to examine my own prejudice and unconscious bias, to find and fully see both Carol’s and John’s side of the equation and where they are justified and where they are blind. It forced me to dig into a part of myself that is able to observe, examine and change my inner wiring in ways I was not previously aware of.”

This is echoed in what actor Dennis Crews, portraying John, shared as his biggest challenge. “Keeping it honest. Many times during rehearsal I would stop and actually yell at my character, he made me so upset. Throughout, I’ve struggled to make sure that my own feelings about him don’t cloud how I portray him. We want the audience to form their own opinions, not force our opinions on them.”

Explore your own opinions about sexual harassment through Studio Theatre’s production of “Oleanna” at 7:30 p.m. March 8-10 and 2 p.m. March 11, at Winter Street Center, 880 Washington St. Tickets are $15 at the door and $12 in advance at

Tamara Lilly is a Woolwich native with 30-plus years as performer, tech, producer, director, teacher, board member and staff at community theaters in Texas, Pennsylvania, and Maine. Find the Stage Door Diva Podcast on iTunes or