Regional Reviews: San Francisco
A Stunning Production of Mark Jackson's Salomania
Also see Richard's review Emotional Creature
Playwright and director Mark Jackson has scored again with a fascinatingly ambitious production Salomania, playing at the Aurora Theatre through July 29th. The two hour and 30 minute drama centers on Maud Allan, accused by Noel Pemberton-Billing in 1918 of being involved in "The Cult of the Clitoris." Noel Pemberton-Billing (Mark Anderson Phillips), a fervent right-wing Member of Parliament, censured Maud Allan (Madeline H.D. Brown) for being a lesbian, a sadist and a German supporter. He made the shameful claim that the Germans were blackmailing "47,000 highly place British perverts." His main idea was to use the court as a soapbox for his international homosexual conspiracy theories. Maud Allan sued Billings for libel, and the historic trial followed. This became a front-page diversion from the horrendous carnage taking place in the trenches of World 1 French and Belgium.
Mark Jackson lives up to his reputation for stimulating ideas and balletic stage pictures with Salomania. He uses six outstanding actors to play 22 roles and they do so with distinct plausibility as a perfect ensemble. Jackson's play ingeniously contrasts the war and life on the homefront with six actors doubling as soldiers and civilian characters. The soldiers explore the surreal world by talking about Cadbury's chocolates; during the war the chocolate factory would send tons of the chocolates to soldiers in the trenches to eat before and after a battle. There is an excellent scene in the second act that takes place in a London pub where a cynical shell-shocked soldier, played wonderfully by Alex Moggridge, chats up a newly liberated widow played beautifully by Marilee Talkington.
Mark Jackson also uses the actual material from the trial transcripts. The trial itself is suspenseful and certainly lurid, set in a time when no one knew the terms "orgasm" and "clitoris." The cross-examination of Maud Allan by Mark Anderson Phillips's cunningly showboating Pemberton-Billing is the stuff of great courtroom drama reminiscent of Witness for the Prosecution. This actor gives a masterful performance as the Prosecutor.
Madeline H.D. Brown is superb as Maud Allan and Salome. When she is Salome she wears marvelous costumes designed by Callie Floor. In one scene she is wearing an ornate outfit straight out of a Theda Bara silent film. Maud was a mediocre dancer but a gaudy celebrity, with her salacious costumes and choreography, and this talented actress shows off sensual poses in her movements about the stage. Alex Moggridge handles the sympathetic role of a sensitive soldier and also Maud's defense attorney with first class acting.
Kevin Clark gives an engaging performance as Judge Darling, but his performance as Oscar Wilde in the last scene is exquisite. Marilee Talkington gives polished performances as Margot Asquith and Eileen Villiers-Stuart. Anthony Nemirovsky shines as the loud-mouth obsessive liar Harold Spencer. Particularly outstanding is Liam Vincent in a superb scene where he plays Lord Alfred Douglas being cross examined by Pemberton-Billing. This is a fine textural interpretation of the problematic "Bosie" who becomes the most sympathetic person in this outstanding drama.
Nina Ball's wall of jumbled crates as courtroom, beleaguered trench, or London pubsometimes instantaneouslyis extraordinary for the three-sided theatre. Matt Stines' sound is fantastic as we hear realistic incoming artillery fire during the battle scenes and a showy scene of Salome's "Dance of the Seven Veils" to Richard Strauss's powerful music. Chris Black's choreography is excellent, and Heather Basarab's lighting adds to realism of the drama. The total staging of the last scene is certainly exquisite.
Salomania runs through July 29th at the Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison Street, Berkeley. For tickets call 510-843-4822 or visit www.auroratheatre.org