Leanness Phone Calls David Mate’s play Lean is a two character power struggle between a young college student and her Professor. By the second act of the play the struggling student, Carol, has filed a formal complaint of sexual harassment, based not on what actually happened, but on the written definition of said conduct in the universities nomenclature. By act three, unbeknownst to the professor, Carol has filed attempted rape charges against the professor. Again the charges do not reflect what actually occurred but find sound footing in the written word of law.
As the story unfolds we e the power shift from the safe, smart, and accomplished professor to the worried, unknowing, and desperate student through the use and interpretation of language. At pivotal moments in the play the professor’s phone rings. Calls from his wife, his real estate agent, and his secretary move the story along. Mate’s phone interruptions reveal elements of character, power dynamics, and conflict to the audience, The phone calls also provoke the audience to draw there own conclusions about the play. Meet is an American playwright, screen writer and film director from Chicago.
He has written several novels, a book of poetry, and worked in television as well. He studied at Goddard College in Vermont and at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theater in New York. He has taught at New York University, Goddard College, and the Yale Drama School, and he regularly lectures at the Atlantic Theater Company, of which he is a founding member. He got hi start in show business at Chicago Second City, a comedy club that produced many cast members for Saturday Night Live. Meet has won many awards including a Toni and a Pulitzer Prize.
His most notable work is the play Gallantry Glen Ross, a gritty kook at cutthroat real estate salesmen. He has a distinct style of writing, especially known for his sparse and blunt dialogue referred to as “Meet Speak”. Characters often interrupt each other and thoughts or comments go unfinished. Meet says in a 1994 interview with Charlie Rose that “drama is three things; who wants what from whom? What happens when they don’t get it? Why now? (Rose, Charlie Rose. November 1 1, 1994) Lean is no exception. Meet begins Lean with a revealing look at John by way of phone conversation he is having with his wife.
They are in escrow on a new house and he is sorting out issues. Carol has done poorly on her paper and wants nothing more; it seems, than to improve her grade in the class. She sits across from him at his desk. It is unclear if John has invited Carol in to sit at the desk or if she entered and sat down uninvited, but what this phone call tells the audience is that the boundary between John’s personal life and professional life is not well defined. Using the phone allows Meet to establish John as someone who is in a position of power. He is delegating to his wife; “… Hat’s why I say “call Jerry… ” (Meet, 1, 1) and he is needed; “I’m going to meet you there….. ‘m leaving in ten or fifteen… ” (1, 1), and he is confident; “We aren’t going to lose the deposit… ” (1, 1), he assures his wife. Meet conveys to the audience that John is a busy and successful man. He is in the driver’s seat, accomplishing his goals and taking care of hand, her grade, but instead asks, “What is a term of 2) a phrase he uses on the phone. Rather than begin a discussion about her performance in the class Carol asks a question about the professor’s personal phone call.
This allows Meet to show that Carol does not know and is seeking answers to more than Just this course. The first phone call in the play allows Meet to show the audience that John is opportunistic and self serving. The professor is annoyed with and has little patience for Carol. He struggles not to interrupt her, uses bigger words than he needs to, and says things like, “l know how potentially humiliating these… [Things can be]” (1 , 39), which can only serve to move them further apart from each other. By the time the phone rings he has subtly challenged her intelligence and she has subtly challenged his ability to teach.
John can take a calculated risk at this Juncture, to maintain power by disturbing Carol. Look, look, I’m not your father. “(l, 97) he says. The less than benevolent professor knows this will either enrage her or make her feel small and child like. It is a cheap shot but should she challenge or confront him for saying it, he simply has to pick up the phone to maintain his position. She does make that challenge, asking, “Why did you say that” (1, 102) and instead of answering her he picks up the phone. The conversation is short, but long enough for him to move away from answering to the comment.
The phone here allows Meet to reveal an element of cowardice in John’s character, and submissiveness in Carol because the investigation simply moves on when he hangs up. Meet leaves the audience to sort things out on their own. The next phone call reveals that John’s desire to connect with his students is second to his desire to handle his own affairs. The conversation returns to the subject of Carol not understanding the class, but instead of attempting to teach Carol something he discounts his writing ability, “perhaps its Just not well written” (1, 117) referring to the book he authored and the course itself “Look.
It’s Just a course, it’s Just a book, it’s Just a… ” (1 , 127). John goes on to tell Carol some anecdotes ND finally says, “l am talking to you the way I wish that someone had talked to me. I don’t know how else to do it than to be personal, .. But… ” (1,229) Carol is confused by the statement and asks, “Why would you want to be personal with me? “(1,230) In spite of much gibberish on John’s part, here lies an opportunity for them to understand each other better. Carol is on the brink of understanding his methodologies, the why he teaches like he does. The phone rings as John begins to explain, but answers the phone before he can finish.
To effectively help this student he needs to connect to her in some way. He has made an attempt, but the phone call lets us know that it really isn’t that important to him. Likewise Carol has made an attempt, but after John ends his call Carol does not seek further explanation for a personal connection with her. Instead she pries into his private life by inquiring about the call. It appears to not mean that much to Carol either. Meet also shows that John is grasping for the power that is fading away by deciding not to answer the phone. John goes on to share some of his negative views of higher education.
He claims the exams students take in college are ,263), and clears his contempt of the tenure committee of which he now awaits his nice home, and his family (1 ,273) until finally, loosing him, Carol interrupts, “l want to know about my grade. (Long Pause)” (1, 278) John’s ego is dented by the interruption. Here the phone rings again. This time Meet uses the phone to alert the audience that something significant is happening. The audience’s ear is now trained to pay close attention to when the phone rings. It has provided insights into the characters and help change the subject.
John is finding it difficult to actually teach Carol anything and she has had enough. Carol says, “l should go. “(1,286) And John says, “I’ll make you a deal” and “Let it 289). Meet shows that John is still capable of wielding power in her world. He is determining the course of the conversation. John has no bag of tricks, no skill to deliver knowledge to this student, so he crumbles. He states, “we’ll start the whole class over…. Your final grade is an A. (The phone stops ringing)”. (1,289) The audience can hear the residual sounds of the last ring fade away as academic standards, responsibility and respect fly out the window.
The audience is left wondering what Just happened. The phone is used to interrupt the flow of conversation between two protagonists. The inappropriate offer of an A has captured Carol’s interests, and temporarily restored power to the lack luster professor. He has saved the deal sort to speak, and at the same time effectively removed the responsibility to impart knowledge to the student. Feeling much safer (and powerful) now he continues to espouse his particular brand of gibberish. He is making a genuine attempt to share what’s in his head, but failing. She has become upset and he tries to console her.
John shows compassion toward Carol and she feels comfortable enough to share with him a secret. “l always… All my life… ‘ have never told anyone this… ” (1, 436) This is a pivot point in their relationship, and yes the phone rings. Carol is about to confide in John, to trust him. John is about to gain access to Carol in a way that could possibly help him teach her. He answers the call and proceeds to have a rather forceful conversation about the house sale. At one point he threatens to take the seller to court (1, 439). This phone call reveals to the audience that perhaps John is somewhat unreasonable and unlikable. … Screw her… ” He says, and “… Leave her there to stew in it… ” (1, 439) Meet shows that John is selfish, and unsympathetic. The audience is forced to agree or disagree with his behavior. Once more the phone call shows that John’s priorities are for himself and not of his students needs. Carol discovers that John is not the right person to confide in. In fact she feels abandoned at this point. John is not someone she can trust. Indeed this phone call is a pivot point. It marks the beginning of the end for the professor, because teaching is less important to him than his status as a teacher.
Again neither Carol nor John continues the conversation where they left off and the audience is left to wonder what her issue is. As the play progresses John’s phone conversations clearly show that he is less confident than before, letting the audience know that he has become less powerful. Act 2 opens with the pair discussing the formal complaint of sexual harassment Carol has filled with the tenure committee. Things he said and did in Act 1 have been exaggerated or taken out of context to substantiate her claim. Her agenda now is clearly not a better grade or more understanding of the course material. She is out for his blood.
She now holds some power over the professor. In Act 1 John holds court in the arena of academia of room; she is a student to be Judged. Now Carol brings accusations against John, supported by the manipulation of language and her “Group” (2, 73) She is about to explain who and what her group is to John when the phone rings. It is John’s wife who is worried about the house sale, and the complaint. John is nervous and less forceful. This phone call acts to block forward progress in their communication, as it id when he was going to explain why being personal with was necessary and when Carol was about to reveal her secret..
When the phone rings in Act 3 the conversation reveals to the audience that things are unraveling. Carol has come to John again. The tenure committee has confirmed Carol’s complaint and John has been denied tenure. The shift in power has become obvious. Carol is forceful and aggressive in conversation. She is using big words, very different from Act 1. John is on the ropes. He is loosing his Job and is at Carol’s mercy. John is unaware that Carol has filed attempted rape charges against him. Ironically he is now studying something she is an author of (the indictment).
As the phone rings John is still referring to the indictment as accusations, Carol is arguing they are proven. It is his secretary. He has neglected speaking to people in his life for some time. “… L have no time… ” (3, 47) People are worried about him, “… Tell Jerry I’m 47) This phone call acts as a catalyst for the end of the play when things come too head. From this point Carol is in a position of authority, allowing or not allowing things in the conversation, and now explaining things to John. John covers that Carol and her group are staging a coupe.