nytheatre.com review by Montserrat Mendez
July 9, 2011
Oscar Wilde’s Salome takes the biblical story of the decapitation of John The Baptist and gives it a very sensual point of view. Salome is one of Wilde’s strangest plays: he wrote it in French, which was not a language he was entirely comfortable with so in translation the play has a hyper-surreal and staccato quality that is unlike most of Wilde’s writing.
So it is without a doubt that I can say that Black Moon’s Theatre Company production of Oscar Wilde’s Salome is just odd. It’s also creepy, unnerving. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Although I’m not entirely sure it’s a good thing either. It really just is a production that you watch, are not sure what to make of it, but still talk about it quite a bit afterwards.
As Salome begins, a Young Syrian, the Page of Herodias, a Cappadocian, and a Nubian stand on a great terrace in the palace of Herod. It is night, and the moon is shining. Towards the back of the set there is a large cistern in which Jokanaan the prophet (i.e., John the Baptist) is imprisoned. The Young Syrian repeatedly speaks to the Page of how beautiful Salome is, but the Page tells the Syrian that he should not look at Salome so much, that something terrible will happen. As it is with plays where Pages warn Syrians about bad omens, red moons and blood on the ground, terrible things do happen. A young man kills himself over Salome, King Herod begs Salome to dance for him and promises her anything for it and when she asks for the head of Jokanaan, he eventually carries out his promise. But of course that’s after she does her famous dance of the seven veils.
All in all, Salome is a straightforward tale, with beautiful language. As directed by Rene Migliaccio, we get a very dark, twisted, and non-humored rendering of the play. Stripped away is the lightness of some of the play’s moments and it’s staged as a full-on tragedy from the start. The main problem with such a choice is that from the first line about the moon being a bad omen we see the evil coming a mile away. When one character kills himself, his friend mourns him, but he was in mourning way before his friend killed himself. As an audience member I don’t like to be told how a play is going to end through its choices. I like to see how the characters deal with the discovery that things may not end well. It’s not nearly as fun if they already know their fates.
But this play seems to be directed in the style of a classical Greek tragedy, with slow movements and dramatic choices that range from angry to angrier without any hint of subtlety. For some moments it works as the staging lends an air of the bizarre; at other times, however, a little subtlety and subtext wouldn’t have hurt. This is an Oscar Wilde play after all—finding some of the humor, and treating some of the language with a soft touch, would have done wonders for some moments.
The cast is absolutely game and committed to their performances, and that kept my attention. Alessio Bordoni as King Herod gives the most nuanced performance, a King Herod that is chilling in his vampiric attitudes toward life and his wanton desire for Salome even when in front of his own wife, who is also Salome’s mother.
Ultimately, the play rests on the shoulders of Salome and John The Baptist; if you believe that there is an attraction there, then it carries the play to its conclusion. I did believe it. I think the way Karina Fernicola-Ikezoe has chosen to play Salome is an interesting choice. Her Salome is not aware that she’s beautiful, she’s wholly unaware of her sexually. She is however aware that her presence has an effect on men. So in the end, you see a very young naïve girl play with how far she can take that effect. As played by Fernicola-Ikezoe, she is a Lolita, and while I think she can still make some different vocal choices, I found her entire performance enticing because I felt slightly dirty watching it. It is a naively seductive performance.
On the other end of the spectrum, Chris Ryan gives a very physical performance as John the Baptist. And while I found it screeching and loud at times, he walks a very fine line—is this man a prophet or is he a schizophrenic? His is the first performance of a biblical character where I didn’t completely believe in the power of God, but in the power of the mind to convince you that you are something you are not. I walked away believing his John the Baptist was a sadly mentally ill man (though his illness would not be named for hundreds of years). That’s wonderful, to give a man that much humanity as to take away his sainthood.
I still have some problems with the production. I did not feel that it was a multimedia production as simple projections to the back scrim have become the norm of many productions, and I felt like the play needed a little more. I wanted some of the language to be played with a bit, and for the actors to nuance some of their choices. But these are all things that will be settled into as the run continues.
As I said, it is an odd production. Not in the way it was produced. But in the reaction that elicited from me. But, isn’t it enough that I want to talk about it? I think the fact that I do means they accomplished something.