The Last Night of Salome
nytheatre.com review by Thomas Weitz
March 3, 2006
March is possibly the most difficult month of the year. It is, at least in New York, the last month of winter and therefore the longest. In March the last bit of snow seems incapable of melting, the temperature, though warmer, is still too low to wear only t-shirts, and the trees still seem painfully bare. And for those of us who do not have a spring break, March marks the halfway point between winter holidays and summer vacations. What we need, and what The Last Night of Salome (L'ultima notte di Salome), a new play by Emanuele Vacchetto, gives us, is a brief respite from the cold, a vacation to another place and time—a small bar in Italy in the 1950s.
The story of The Last Night of Salome is fairly straightforward. It’s another late night at the bar and the owner, Desi, is once again left to clean up the mess while her husband sleeps off his latest binge, when a famous actress, Veronica Lopez, comes in from out of the rain. The women quickly become acquainted and start trading stories over drinks about their good-for-nothing husbands and their lost lives. So far we could be anywhere, right?
But, what makes Salome so magically transportative isn’t the story, but rather the wonderful way in which the story is told. For starters it’s in Italian (with supertitles). Secondly, unlike the movements and gestures of many American actors, which tend to be more naturalistic, the actors in Salome perform with so much gusto and physicality that they nearly become cartoons. Carla Cassola, who does a superb job playing the grand diva, moves with a slinky air of entitlement and creates entire paintings in the sky with her voluminous gesticulations. Lydia Biondi, who does an equally fine job with the Desi, finds brilliant and unexpected moments of physical humor to contrast with her character's understated emotions. To add to the heightened emotion of the piece, the director, Maria Luisa Bigai—with the help of Alessandro Molinari, who wrote original music for the show—has scored nearly the entire piece with melodramatic classical music filled almost exclusively with strings. The net effect, to Bigai and Molinari’s credit, is the feeling that you have been transported out of New York and into a Fellini movie.
Even the sets and the costumes, designed by Natacha Tanzilli, give the feeling that you have just stepped into one of the hidden bars along Rome’s narrow cobblestone streets.
If there is anything negative to say about the play, it is the development of the story. Emanuele Vacchetto has written a very funny script but the themes are only partially developed and the conclusion feels a bit forced. I would have been happy watching this Italian Odd Couple just play out their impulses without getting bogged down with the ultimate significance of their meeting. Perhaps I just need a vacation more then most.
At the performance reviewed there were some technical difficulties. The sound, which I acknowledge was quite an undertaking what with the number of sound cues, often cut off abruptly or came in late, which ended up also being a problem with the supertitles. Occasionally a line would come too early or too late, leaving half the audience laughing while the other half was trying to listen.
My guess is that the technical issues will have worked themselves out by now. Either way, it is a small price to pay for such a delightful bit of theatre. For those of you who do not believe in going to the theatre to read, I beg you to take a chance on The Last Night of Salome. Some of the best work I’ve seen this year has been in other languages with super- or sub-titles. Foreign theatre has the potential to offer us insightful reflections of our lives and, as is the case with Salome, a vacation from ourselves when we need it most.