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January 26, 2011

“Beautifully Miserable” – Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson is a familiar face on the Soulpepper stage, having appeared in over a dozen productions since graduating from George Brown Theatre School. Her most recent credits for Soulpepper include Jitters, A Christmas Carol, Travesties, and Awake and Sing! Sarah has also performed in Death of a Salesman with Theatre Aquarius, Love’s Labour’s Lost with Resurgence Theatre, and two seasons at Stratford. For 2011, Sarah plays the complex and challenging role of Carol in Oleanna.

Tomorrow we enter tech week. Six days until we preview. We did our first run of the whole show yesterday, which our director described as “extremely not bad.” Diego and I laughed when he said that. It’s classic László.

This play excites me so much. There are points in the script that take my breath away every time I read them, and then to actually perform it all in one go… yowza. This is what happened right after our stage manager Nancy said, “Blackout”:

I laughed. Diego said, “Are you all right?” I said, “That goes fast!”, and Diego said, “This is going to be fun.” It is fun, but it’s also incredibly uncomfortable. Even in its less explosive parts, the conflict is relentless. On top of that, it’s funny. Diego and I got the giggles the other day during Act 1, and László agreed that the play is “hilarious, but also beautifully miserable.”

It seems to be one of those plays that many people have strong opinions about. About its content, about its characters, about Mamet and his opinions, about “How To Perform a Mamet Play”…in some ways, I think that’s fantastic. It’s pretty great watching someone go from zero to furious in the time it takes to say “Oleanna.”  But I hope that people will see and hear our play with fresh eyes and ears.

There’s so much more to it than I had realized, and what I’ve learned through rehearsal just thrills me. Someone once described the problem of Antigone to me as being “two people who are irreconcilably right,” and that keeps popping up in my mind. When we did Three Sisters a few years ago, László would sometimes describe it as “a play about us,” and I think the same goes here. Oleanna is very much a play about us.

Also, if you’re wondering:  “Oleanna” is a Norwegian folk song that mocks a man named Ole Bull and the colony he created in Pennsylvania in the 1850s. He’d visited America several times and thought it was pretty much the place to be. Opportunity, fertile land, communal socialism… anyways, it failed pretty quickly. The colonists realized they didn’t own the land they thought they did, and what land they did own was dense forest on the side of a hill. You see? Hilarious, but also beautifully miserable.

Photo: Sandy Nicholson.