On its surface, David Mamet's "Oleanna" is a two-act play about the relationship between a college professor and a female student.
But Andy Stowers and Lauren Stanford, who play the professor and student in E.M.U. Theatre's upcoming production of the play, believe there is more to Mamet's script.
"The play attacks empty platitudes, but we are not trying to play the message of the play," Stowers said. "We're trying to (portray) a story."
Stowers describes his character as a married professor who is in the midst of securing tenure and buying a house for his family. He's critical of the educational institution where he works but also enjoys a comfortability made possible through his job.
"He seems to think he can do a better job than the teachers and professors he had," Stowers said. "He's pedantic and has a patronizing attitude toward his students."
Stanford said her character is a student in the professor's class. She is frustrated with her grade and goes to him to try to get the grade changed. After their meeting, the student files a sexual harassment claim against the professor.
Stowers said the student comes into the meeting "not as an innocent but naive."
"What you think of her in the first act changes as the play goes along," Stanford said. "She's not what she seems at first."
Mamet won the Pulitzer Prize in 1984 for "Glengary Glen Ross." His plays includes "American Buffalo" and "Sexual Perversity in Chicago." His screen writing credits include "The Untouchables" and "Spanish Prisoner."
"Oleanna" will be performed at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 N.H. The play is part of a double bill, of sorts. At 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday, the Wichita-based Theatre on Consignment will present "Bash: Latterday Plays" by Kansas University alumnus Neil LaBute.
LaBute gained recognition with his films "In the Company of Men" and "Your Friends and Neighbors." Both explore the dark side of human relationships and human behavior.
"Bash" is in the same vein, said Erin Jones, who is directing "Oleanna."
"It's about how cruel people can be," she said. "Â But it makes you feel strangely guilty."
"Bash," a trio of one-act plays, debuted in June 1999 with Paul Rudd, Calista Flockhart and Ron Eldard in the starring roles. In "Medea Redux," a young woman tells about her complex and eventually tragic relationship with her English teacher. "A Gaggle of Saints" features a young Mormon couple who recount the violent events of an anniversary weekend in New York City. In "Iphegnia in Orem," a Utah businessman makes a chilling confession to a stranger in a Las Vegas hotel room.
"You see parts of yourself in the characters," Jones said, "and that makes you feel uneasy."