Monday, July 4, 2011

The Bible's Most Dysfunctional Family?

Saturday night was an outing into L.A's NOHO district for dinner  and theater
In that order. 
Digression first: When viewing any version of "Salomé," one wants to eat before the performance and allow a bit of time for digestion. And I'd advise against ordering anything like suckling pig or one of those platters of crispy Chinese whole fried fish. Lifeless eyes on your dinner plate are only going to come back to haunt you if the New Testament's most famous femme fatale figures into your evening's plans. 

That said, the sauce in this Fabulous Monsters Performance Group production was quite a bit milder than   in previous productions of theirs that I've seen. Oscar Wilde's "Salomé," the source material for Strauss's opera, is inherently problematic as a play unless you're just craving spectacle, and while the Fabulous Monsters do spectacle better than just about anyone, there's usually the sense of a bottomless deep in their productions. 
The characters in "Salomé" are historical and thereby come to us with a set of  preconceptions--Biblical preconceptions. John the Baptist, King Herod, his wife, and his wife's daughter are known to us through the gospels. Except for Jesus's sidekick, John, their bad reputations precede them. The sainted John is not onstage long enough, and is not written with adequate complexity to rise to the level of protagonist--and I suppose if he were, the play would be a yawn of predictability. I'm not sure what Wilde was seeking for himself and his audience by leaving us with the dysfunctional evil people at the center of the drama. Salomé's step-father, Herod, has intentions toward her that are not at all fatherly. Her mother resents those intentions and inveighs against them. Salomé, the product of a complicated broken home (her mother divorced her father and married his brother) is obsessed with the seduction of a holy man, and ultimately causes his grisly demise. Herod then commands Salomé's bloody end. Mother bereft. Family destroyed. Kingdom traumatized. River of blood. The end.

Which is what, oddly enough, might make this qualify as a patriotic 4th of July post. The only characters I really cared about in "Salomé" were the soldiers and their young commander. Through a stroke of genius on the part of director Rob Prior and/or his costumer, Carol Sigurson, the military uniforms were modern-day. The soldiers had smart phones, too, completing a  juxtaposition that put this somewhat stale Bible story into a current context. When the young commander slits his own throat at the horror that is about to occur, I uttered my only gasp of the evening. For the remainder of the play despite the gore and the glitz, the dancing and the drama, I found my focus traveling to the commander-less soldiers, minor players in their combat fatigues, haplessly caught up in a bloodbath beyond their control. 


Elizabeth said...

Very cool and enticing review --

I just love the new blog, Denise -- the look, the colors, especially, and I scrolled all the way down, stopping to ooh and aah then I sang the song.

Love to you!

d paik said...

did you know that none of your "his big fat etc"
posts are available?

Jules said...

Just sitting on my front porch watching the butterflies cavorting in my flowers. The milkweeds are blooming and so I keep my eyes open as I sip a frozen margarita. I read your words and smile. Life is good, especially when you consider the other option. Cheers!