Julia Stiles, best known for films such as “Save the Last Dance” and “10 Things I Hate About You,” will be making her Broadway debut this fall.
The Irish-American actress stars in David Mamet’s play “Oleanna” opposite Bill Pullman (also of Irish descent), and directed by Doug Hughes.
The play officially opens at the Golden Theatre on October 11 with performances starting September 29. The move to New York comes after a successful run of the production in L.A.
In the play, Carol, a college student, visits her professor, John, in his office to discuss her academic performance, and later accuses him of sexually harassing her. Stiles played the role of Carol in a London West End production in 2004, with Aaron Eckhart as John.
Revisiting the role after 5 years gives Stiles a chance to realize that the play is “not really about sexual harassment.” It’s also about misunderstanding and power plays, she says, as well as anger. “Carol is calling out the professor,” says Stiles, “asking him to be honest.”
The play highlights the ways people communicate and misunderstand one another, and communication has changed rapidly since the play was written in 1994. Stiles says that they have incorporated these cultural shifts into their interpretation, taking into account the access that cell phones provide, for example, and the fact that many universities now have “open door policies” prohibiting entirely private meetings between students and faculty.
Stiles has appeared in several films written by Mamet (“Edmond, “State and Main”) and admires his work, calling “Oleanna” a play that sticks with her as “provocative and exhilarating.” She says that Carol is probably Mamet’s most well-developed female role, and appreciates that he is “not a sentimental writer.”
Mamet’s tagline for the show is “Whatever side you take, you’re wrong.” Stiles agrees with the statement and hopes that audiences will too.
“Oleanna” resurfaces in what Stiles calls a “post-PC era,” which she says “allows the play to breath more, allows the other themes to come out. Carol’s argument is about more than one moment.”
“Oleanna” challenges audiences not to decide who is right in the given circumstances, but to think about how we make these decisions and whether or not our underlying precepts are flawed.
“It goes beyond sexuality,” says Stiles. “There is no right and wrong in this play.”