SPOILERS: Delusional Fangirl writes a detailed review of Salome. Many thanks to her for taking the time to write such an elegant piece for my blog.
I saw Yaël Farber’s “Salomé” a few nights ago with great anticipation, after reading several glowing reviews and having found the Digital Theatre film of “The Crucible” gripping and moving.
After a lovely autumn train ride from the Shenandoah Valley, across the Blue Ridge Mountains and through Virginia’s piedmont, I met my husband, who was in DC on business, and we strolled to the theater. That was the best part of the evening.
I was disappointed in this production and am still trying to figure out why. The cast was uniformly excellent; the visuals, sound, costumes, singing and lighting wonderfully evocative. So what went wrong for me?
When I go to the theater I tend to gravitate toward the classics or musical theater. I haven’t seen many avant-garde productions, for which I guess this play qualifies. Perhaps this inexperience on my part explains my annoyed bafflement when the curtain (figuratively) came down and the actors barely made it offstage before the applause stopped.
Farber brings a new vision to the old story: this Salome is a fiercely independent spirit oppressed by her society — represented by her drunken, lecherous stepfather Herod Antipas, as well as her chastity belt-like leather girdle. Her society is in turn oppressed by Roman occupation which she abhors. She can only find her voice and realize her selfhood by helping John the Baptist fulfill his destiny – his death will signal the revolt against Roman rule leading to the renewal of the Hebrew nation. At least I think that’s what it’s about. . . .
Farber apparently wrote the script, after reading numerous sources ranging from the Old Testament’s “Song of Solomon”, Babylonian texts, the New Testament’s brief narrative of John’s story (which apparently does not mention Salomé by name), contemporary historians, and later dramatists, including Oscar Wilde.
The script seemed to me to be a pastiche of ancient Greek dramatic conventions, pseudo-biblical declamations, and metaphor-laden aestheticism. Movement was often over-stylized á la “Afternoon of a Faun” and dialogue was usually shouted, with copious amounts of saliva issuing forth (we were in the nose-hair seats – as opposed to the nosebleed seats – and it felt like the first row at Sea World.)
There was some stunning stage witchery – a downward blast of vapor forming an enormous backdrop; a sheet of water cascading from the catwalk; monumental draperies ringing the stage evoking the Seven Veils; a massive ladder seeming to rise unsupported to the heights. But the tricks went too far, especially overuse of the revolving stage as the players, frozen in mid-gesture, slowly rotated past like figures on an elaborate cuckoo clock (once or twice was great; five times was too many.) And the dialogue was just too portentous – and pretentious – to tell a coherent story. Two choices I found very effective: the use of a multi-national cast, and the fact that John the Baptist spoke only in Arabic, which brought to mind a true zealot, speaking in tongues. His thoughts were translated by a character playing the role of a Greek chorus, effectively narrating and commenting on the action.
A side note: we met a charming French lady and her daughter on the way to the theater, and chatted afterwards. She, too, looked puzzled and pronounced it “surprenant.” They were waiting to meet one of the actors whom her daughter knew. Turns out he was John the Baptist hisself, standing quietly alone outside the main entrance. As is often the case, he was slighter in person than he seemed on stage, modest and unassuming and genuinely pleased by our enthusiastic praise.