In the director’s notes on the first page of the program, Olivia D’Ambrosio asks the audience: “What’s your point of entry to the play?” (Bridge Rep’s SALOME runs through Oct. 18th). My point of entry is the Richard Strauss opera. There is nothing in all of opera so devastating and bloodcurdling as Strauss’ orchestral coda at the end of the opera. A dissonant, shattering echo of a melody is followed by three sets of three rapid, banging, heart stopping chords which intensify and finalize the horror we’ve just witnessed.
Needless to say, a pop song by the Carpenters just doesn’t pack a wallop. And there should be a wallop at the end of the play. Updating to the ‘70s doesn’t make sense either…plus, there’s no evidence on stage that it is the ‘70s (except for the Carpenters on a sound track). What’s more: Hiding John the Baptist behind a flat on the balcony (so we see only his shadow) necessitates that he shout to be heard down below. In point of fact, there’s a lot of shouting going on in this production. The First Church space causes an annoying reverberation because of the high vaulted ceiling and shouting doesn’t help us make out the rebounding dialogue. Besides, when actors shout, nuance goes out the window.
I liked Esme Allen’s oversized moon which turned red on cue. (Then I went home and watched the real moon turn red as the earth’s shadow slowly eclipsed it. Not black as I had remembered from other eclipses. Red! Herod thought it was an omen. Perhaps.) I loved the “ill” wind which blew over the audience when Salome danced, an ingenious touch—or did the janitor just open a door? In any case I’d like to think the production might have worked in another space where soft voices could be articulated. Director D’Ambrosio has a passel of fine actors (Woody Gaul, Robert Murphy, Veronica Wiseman, Cliff Odle and more) in service of Oscar Wilde’s famous play—or should I say ‘infamous’ because censors shut it down so often over the “Dance of the Seven Veils.”
Shura Baryshnikov’s dance, oddly, is a frenetic, non-erotic, Native American, slithering gambol spiced briefly with the frug (their bow to the ‘70s)—and no veils, just a flimsy peignoir over a black slip which she lowers so that Herod alone can see her breasts. The irony is that nudity on stage is passé these days. The only shock this audience encounters is the platter and its contents which made the young people seated next to me cry “oooh, gross.” (Gross means Halloween prank shocking.) They should have been moved by the power of the story, not the ‘ick’ factor.
I’m convinced that substituting Strauss for the Carpenters would have gone a long way toward Wilde’s intent but that’s just an earnest suggestion from a dyed-in-the-wool Oscar Wilde devotee.