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In a world where bare bottoms and bare breasts can be glimpsed on
billboards and in family newspapers, and clothing is at its most titillating ever, there
is a countervailing PC force afoot on campuses and in workplaces. Long overdue strictures against sexual harassment
have been enlarged to forbid consensual relationships between consenting adults in those
contexts. Nowhere have the limits been more
severe nor the answers more murky than on college campuses.
The potential for the abuse of power by older faculty members (generally assumed to
be male) preying upon students (assumed to be young females) has transformed the
enforcement of sexual harassment regulations into a kind of in locus parentis not
seen since the 1950s.
Off campus, these same rules have denied the reality that single professionals with billing requirements of 2000 hours or more per year have little opportunity to meet partners elsewhere. As the powerful have taken advantage of inferiors, many a lasting relationship has also begun as a workplace tryst or a student-teacher romance.
In Dialectics of the Heart, the line between what is the rule and what should be the rule is explored through the teachings of philosophers from Plato to Hegel and played out between Professor Elizabeth Drewer (Sharon Lawrence) -- forty years old, beautiful, articulate, obsessive about her career, with the moral concreteness Piaget ascribes to a six year old -- and graduate student/teaching assistant 28-year-old Richard Amado (Nicholas Gonzales) -- enthusiastic, charismatic, unfettered by boundaries, and drawn to the university to study at her feet.
Three other professors who are more comfortable in realms of gray are the supporting cast. Barbara Biden is an African American, earth mother professor of Social Anthropology so warmly played by Carlease Burke that there is an irresistible impulse to go to her dressing room at curtain and say, "girl, when can we have coffee together?" Philip Monohan (Joel Polis) is a Philosophy Department colleague sanctioned by the faculty committee after Professor Drewer reluctantly testified she had seen him kiss a student. And Marshall Heughins (Peter Husmann) is the beleaguered ex-husband of Drewer, a chemistry professor attracted to her by her mind and ultimately exhausted by her intensity, now married to a less complicated woman.
From her lectern,
Elizabeth and Roberts relationship is a dialectic in a dictionary sense: The contradiction between two conflicting forces viewed as the determining factor in their continuing interaction.
The ending may stray too close to the classic "Girl Meets Boy" format, but the journey is challenging and entertaining. No ones intelligence is insulted and no one can leave the theater without mulling over where the line should be drawn between sexual harassment and relationships between consenting adults.
January 24, 2006 - Karen Weinstein