The drive to downtown LA is enchanted on this April 11th of a Friday night. The city lights appear like a mirage of metropolitan magnificence and the sky is just slightly overcast. The prime reason I have time to appreciate this now, more than ever, is that we are sitting in a relatively hugely gridlocked area of traffic the scope and scansion of Duluth for the balance of our journey. But never mind, it is a good night to be out and we just barely make it to the venue on time.
The theatre is located at 305 South Hewitt street right in the heart of downtown L.A.’s Arts District. With its warehouse lofts, brewery/art galleries and its multitudinous murals, one can almost lose oneself locating the correct cavernously creative venue. But we do and it is grand. Doubling as a Yoga/Pilates studio during the day, we enter, passing what looks like the darkened Yoga studio itself, ostensibly doubling as a backstage area. The Archway theatre’s deliciously brick interior will provide a cozy-cordial, yet hardened hug for all enveloped by its impending exhibition: Archway Theatre’s “Salome” by Oscar Wilde.
The play takes place on the Terrace above a banquet hall, biblical times: Herod and Herodias’ place, Tetrach and Queen of Judea respectively. At its outset it seems to be a pretty swingin’ and sophisticated little dinner shindig, somewhat reminiscent of a post-repast veranda scene culled from a Noel Coward play; ”Aaah lovely evening we’re having…” Guests having retired to the terrace, sip sweet wine and talk about how beautiful things are, the night, the wine (in my mind anyway)…the princess Salome in particular according to Sejanus, a Herodian soldier. But little do they know the element of familial dysfunction and psychopathery that will serve as their entertainment for the majority of the remainder of the evening. (No really folks, you’d have done much better if you’d all just stayed home and cooked yourself some Chef Boy-ar-Dee! I’m tellin’ ya!)
Anyway, most people probably already know the story but, for those, not so much…in a nutshell (and according to Oscar Wilde) here goes: So Salome’s like this 19-year-old girl—a princess to be exact–and she has this really creepy step-dad who keeps this, like, Hebrew Prophet named Jokanaan in this dank and dirty lair pretty much adjacent to the Terrace—I mean, geez… People eat out there!—or at least drink and probably partake of the occasional canapé and aparatif if nothing else! Is that REALLY the best most hygienic place for him?
But, okay…anyway, Jokanaan’s like some circus side-show freak/narrator/sarcastic bystander who randomly shouts out the future (always bleak) whether it is appropriately-timed or not. Like this dinner party? –not so much, but apparently Herod hasn’t even gotten him trained, to the point where you’d think he must be some sort of hideous creature akin to Jabba the Hutt, somehow prevented from showing his face to the world. When we see him, however, he is anything but! (Hubba hubba Ladies—and some men of course, this is the theatre after all…) Salome, as though unaware that Jokanaan has been lurking at the homestead all this time, demands to see the fair forecaster only to be denied it, save for the smitten Herodian Soldier Sejanus who slays himself in Salome’s honor. Several comments are made regarding the spilled blood from this sword-induced suicide but not at any point does anybody swipe it up leaving the Cappodocian Ambassador and the Nubian Princess essentially sitting next to where it was spilt on the floor, carrying on like nothing much has even transpired, for the remainder of the evening. Ew. (Just what will Cappodocian do at the decapitation I wonder…)
Not only that, Salome’s step-dad killed her real dad who was also his brother, to be with her mother. Confused yet?—or horrified? It is this that Jokanaan calls this an “Incestuous Union” and pretty much has nothing but bad things to say and predict about it now rendering him the least creepy character of the bunch! (Oh well, their names are almost identical though: Herod/Herodias which pretty much takes care of any monogrammed sweater/towel discord should they ever experience any.)
To top it all off, Salome’s step-dad is constantly looking at her—and I mean LOOKING at her the likes of which Salome wishes Jokanaan would look at her and Jokanaan never really says anything about this because I get the impression he’d like to not think of it or her either way. This ticks Salome off no end to the point where, after her creepy father, having asked her to dance and undressing her, no doubt, for the umpteenth time (yes I said “umpteenth”–whist imagining what it must look like in the Roman Numeric sense of course) with his eyes, agrees to do her dance of the seven veils right there on the Terrace for all Mummy and Daddy’s friends. She strips essentially and they all help her in a very innovative and rousing rendition of this carnal caper. The lovely Salome then takes Uncle Daddy up on his offer of anything she wants in the kingdom for having granted him said dance. She does; and in so doing, asks for the Hebrew Prophet Jokanaan’s Head—minus his body…ew.
Even folks not so familiar with the story know she gets it and, in this production at least, does some pretty unspeakable things with it—right in front of EVERYBODY on the Terrace! And they say present day Hollywood Horror films are Hideous!
As Noel Coward once never writ: “I say, lovely dysfunctional dinner party this evening”, “Nice weather we’re having with that touch of morbid red blood moon.” “Lovely implied avuncular incest we’re witnessing…ey?” “Ah yes, yes, lovely inferred necrophilia this fine eve too…”
“Pray do not sully thy gladiator sandals with any spilled sanguine humor…”
Can you imagine the invitations? Etched on the most luxuriant of parchment, utilizing the finest India ink via a most ostentatious peacock quill pen: A dinner to end all dinner celebrations the world over—a party to be reckoned with, the likes of which Rowan and Martin never bargained for, “Let’s go to the partyyyy!” in dire need of a little “Here come the Judge!” and some “Sock it to me!” time to either heighten or defuse the tension…
Little do the guests know, and now all they can do is bear witness to this most vexing and bloody family dysfunction until it is acceptable for them to go home, thusly begging the question…why AREN’T they going home…? Oh no…wait…I get it…His Tetrachdom…yeah…yeah…
I find myself riveted, part in parcel by the pacing, timing and scansion of the acting, not to mention, story unfoldment. Moreover, everything seems so authentic: the set, the back brick wall (whether or not they had such walls in those days, it matters not) the ivy creeping up the walls…and down the walls…the costuming, the furniture, the seemingly enchanted columned grotto… I feel almost as though I am literally back in time watching the story unfold; either that or I have stepped into one of my old “Obelix and Asterix” comic books. Either way, it is all very colorful and authentic the likes of which Goscinny and Uderzo would be proud.
The dances were very originally and innovatively choreographed and the costuming, stunning! The lighting to denote the blood red moon was also quite mesmerizing…
Performances that stand out are that that of Salome herself, portrayed by a headstrong and spirited Deneen Melody in the most deliciously psychopathic of fashions, Herodias, Queen of Judea performed by the forceful and elegant Jennifer Hawkins and the Cappadocian Ambassador portrayed by the ever noticeably and subtly comedic Daniel Krause. Krause literally looks like he stepped right out of the era in particular and one cannot help but feel the need to smile at every line uttered as there is just something so amusingly captivating about him…
Two other performances of note would have to be the Nubian Princess, played by Nassou Camara, changed at the director’s admission from simply “The Nubian”. It is she, through production-specific choreography, who offers to dance, prior to Salome’s acceptance of the entreaty by her perverted Father- Uncle, in order to try and defuse the dysfunctional family tension as she offers to show them all some dance moves from her country. And finally, Herod, Tetrach of Judea, performed by the deliciously, offbeat, somewhat Keith Richradsesque (only much better looking) Elias McCabe. I will talk to McCabe after the play and discover that he was a former model and Vietnam vet. He will tell me tales, the least of which centers around his spending a night in the African desert where the sand looked like snow against the dark twinkling sky…
“Salome” runs at the Archway Theatre until May 11th.
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