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It’s unlikely that when Oscar Wilde wrote
"Salome," at the end of the 19th century, he ever dreamed
his controversial play would one day be staged in the ruins of
a Brooklyn bathhouse. Yet the Brooklyn Lyceum, with its crumbling
walls and cavernous spaces, so evocative of the decadence and
decay of ancient Rome, has proved to be the perfect setting for
Reg Flowers’ musical adaptation of Wilde’s play.
"Salome" is based on the New Testament tale that appears in the Gospel according to Mark. Salome is the daughter of Herodias and Herod Philip. When her mother divorced Herod Philip and married his brother, Herod Antipas, governor of Judea, the prophet John the Baptist was imprisoned for denouncing the marriage as incestuous. At Herod Antipas’ birthday feast, Salome so pleased her stepfather (also her uncle) with her dancing that he promised to grant her whatever she might ask, which at the urging of her mother, turned out to be the head of John the Baptist on a platter.
For more than 1,000 years, artists have been fascinated with the passion, the lust and the violence they saw, or imagined they saw, in the story. But it wasn’t until the 19th century that men of letters became equally beguiled by the dancing princess.
Heinrich Heine in "Alta Troll," Gustave Flaubert in "Herodias" and Stephane Mallarme in "Herodiade" all wrote about the bewitching maiden. Even an American, J.C. Heywood, wrote a dramatic poem called "Salome," which was reprinted by the London publisher Kegan Paul, and reviewed by Wilde in the Pall Mall Gazette.
Wilde’s "Salome," however, is not the docile daughter dutifully obeying her mother’s request. She is a woman who loves, suffers and hates. She is not disturbed by her mother’s treachery, her mother’s desire for vengeance or the condemnations of John the Baptist. What tortures her are the black eyes and red lips of John the Baptist, a man who scorns her love and denies her lust.
Flowers has set his "Salome" in a warehouse in a desolate section of a city and turned Herod into a drug lord surrounded by sycophants. But, given the inventive and brilliant costuming of Jennifer Johanos, who makes effective use of an eclectic assortment of drapes, bows, bustles, bangles, tights and trains, the play could really take place anywhere and anytime.
The director has also added original music he composed with Steve Goldberger, Seryn Potter and New Clear Sky, and dances he choreographed with Lavall Chichester, Amy Johnston, Laura Taylor and DJ McDonald. There’s one show-stopping gospel number that’s worth the price of admission all by itself.
Flowers, who is a member of the performing arts group Falconworks, was just finishing up his solo off-off-Broadway piece "Curses," at the Westbeth Theatre Center in Manhattan and was looking for a new venue when he discovered the Brooklyn Lyceum while walking through his Park Slope neighborhood. At the Lyceum he met its owner, Eric Richmond, who introduced him to director-choreographer McDonald, another Park Slope resident and the founder of Vertices Incorporated, a community-oriented dance-theater company.
Together, they decided that "Salome" would be an excellent medium to engage the young people of the neighborhood and introduce them to the theater. The 30-member cast of "Salome" includes professional Equity actors performing alongside youngsters who’ve never before been on stage. There are also local performance artists, poets, musicians, rap artists and street performers. The result is quite formidable.
Flowers is a skilled director who gets solid performances from even the most raw amateur. From his professionals he demands nothing less than perfection. Todd Anthony-Jackson is an electrifying Herod Antipas who speaks in stentorian tones. Angela Bullock is a formidable Herodias, who faces defeat with dignity and defiance.
Bianca Stauffer, a Salome chosen more for her dancing ability than her experience as an actress, has neither the stature nor the voice necessary for the role. Her Salome is childish, weak and whining. One suspects this is not exactly what Wilde had in mind, especially when you consider that he wrote the play in French and the part of Salome for Sarah Bernhardt.
Nevertheless there’s something truly fascinating and theatrical in watching such talented and experienced professionals as Jackson and Bullock mentoring younger talent. In fact, it may be this mixture of the novice and the professional that gives "Salome" much of its energy. And then there’s Flowers’ magnificent staging - the dance, the music, just the way he has his actors strut across the stage.
"Salome" - written in France, banned in Britain - is welcomed in Brooklyn.
"Salome" runs through Jan. 27, Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm, Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets are $15. On Sunday, students with ID and seniors pay half-price admission. The Brooklyn Lyceum is located at 227 Fourth Ave. at President Street. For reservations, call (718) 857-4816.
©2002 Community Newspaper Group
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