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San Francisco by Richard Connema

A Heads Up Production of Salome

Also see Richard's reviews of Trog! and Death in Venice

A Christmas Carol
Ron Campbell and Miranda Calderon
The Aurora Theatre Company opens its 15th season with Oscar Wilde's most notorious play, Salome, running through October 1. Salome has been called the biblical teenager from hell. She has been vilified in films such as Columbia's 1953 feature that starred Rita Hayward. Richard Strauss wrote an opera about the the infamous woman in 1905. Salome is Wilde's most controversial play, and he passed away before he could see the drama on stage; it was banned in England until 1931.

This marks the third time I have seen this renowned play. The first was a very strange production by that strange British actor Steve Berkoff in London years ago. It was Oscar Wilde on pot. I saw the play again in New York with Al Pacino taking the role of King Herod and Marisa Tomei playing the teenager from hell. I called it the Godfather meets Oscar Wilde.

Salome is rarely performed as it contains a great deal of extremely artificial dialogue that is hard on the modern ear. There are strained metaphors, especially at the beginning of the tragedy. Even Iokanaan (the John the Baptist character) is full of resonant biblical speech. The current production is both severe and witty, thanks to the members of this splendid cast.

Ron Campbell plays King Herod in an almost over the top campy version of the monarch. Especially in his long speech where Herod promises everything in the whole kingdom just to see Salome dance, Campbell sounds a lot like Max Adrian as Dr. Pangloss in the original production of Candide. Even when the young girl starts to dance, he looks and acts like a gnarly snake. His mouth is agape as he shows sensuous feelings toward the young girl. You get the idea of what he really wants from her.

Miranda Calderon plays Salome like a spoiled brat, and you don't get the idea that she is unaware of the meaning of love. She is an unruly and privileged young girl who is consumed with lust for the lips of Iokanaan. Mark Anderson Phillips as Iokanaan is stuck up in a metal cage above the audience. Occasionally, the cage is lowered and Mark comes out speaking biblical prophesies.

Julia Brothers as Herodias has very little dialogue, but her incredible judgmental glances and acidic comments are brilliant. You can't take your eyes off her, even when the king is speaking. Joel Rainwater, Beth Wilmurt, Deontay Wilson and Trish Mulholland give outstanding, focused performances as courtiers, soldiers and executioners.

Director Mark Jackson has set the piece in what looks like a Cole Porter musical of the 1920s. The art deco lines of Mikiko Uesugi's set are electrifying. Callie Floor's early 20s costumes are striking. King Herod's royal robe with colors of sexual lilac, purple and bright red would make any drag queen envious. Salome is dressed like a flapper, with a short white dress with sequins. Her dance of the seven veils, choreographed by Chris Black, is sensuous with a certain anger at Iokanaan who refused to kiss her.

Salome plays through October 1 at the Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison Street, Berkeley, Ca. For tickets please call 510-843-4822 or go to www.auroratheatre.org.

Their next production will be the West Coast premiere of Joan Ackermann's Ice Glen, opening November 3rd through December 10.


Photos: David Allen


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema



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