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March 10, 2012

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Steven Schubin

I'd completely agree with the final statement. The thing truly missing from this show is love. Herod doesn't love his wife, and desires his step daughter. Salome lusts after Jokanaan, while being lusted after herself by the Young Syrian. No where in there is love. There is the extreme devotion of Jokanaan to his God, but other than that, nothing. I think the closest moment to love comes right after death, which serves only to sour its sweetness. However, that aside, having these raw sexual in the moments is so gratifying. It's hard to find something in a show that is so shocking anymore. America has become so resistant to any of the great theater moments, people killing themselves, murder, death, odd costumes and props, that I find it astounding when a moment in a show can actually shock the people in it. We as a cast were blown away after watching some of the more sexual scenes in this show, and we have been working on it for going on 3 months now. I'm looking forward to hearing about and seeing the reactions of the crowd during this show. It'll be a very new experience for some people and utterly shocking for others.

Kevin Landis

At the Theatreworks season opening party the other day, a subscriber came up to me and said, "Salome?! You really are trying to destroy the company." He was very clearly joking but was reflecting what he saw as a tendency towards the puritanical rage that America does so well. This is captured in the Guardian article that Murray has posted. Sex and the conversations about sex swirl around every aspect of our lives and yet we protest...and protest. We seem to say, "show me death (Mary Stuart), show me racial relations (Joe Turner) show me characters who lie and commit adultery (Merry Wives of Windsor, Boeing Boeing) but please, oh please don't show me sex and religion (Church, Salome?). We have spent weeks determining how we can "warn" our audiences that they -- grown adults -- might actually witness content of an erotic and disturbing nature. Anyone who wants art or challenge with their entertainment, please raise your hand. Please tell me this. It will lift my spirits.

That said, I commend my colleague Murray Ross for writing this blog and linking to the excellent article. Every director and producer must consider his audience. And in this case, we are choosing not to back off of what is in Salome. We are just going to warn and leave it up to patrons to decide if they want to take the risk.

And here is where I part ways with my dear friend Murray. Go to see Salome not just because it is so present (Rush, Rick etc), see it because it IS a great play... or at the very least, an important play. I look to Wilde scholar Kerry Powell to assert it's importance in theatre history:

"Modern criticism has made Salome one of the most copiously annotated of all of Oscar Wilde's works and accorded it a respect which at first it was rarely paid. It has been called Wilde's second greatest achievement in drama and 'the one unquestionable masterpiece of the English decadence.'"

The author goes on to note that, yes, some loathe this play...one French critic declares that it is "one of the most famous and one of the worst of his works." But the fact that there is discussion and that that discussion has gone on for over a century says something. What exactly? Well I think it is safe to say that this play is challenging.

Masterpiece, respect, challenging, achievement. These are not words that are generally written anywhere near words like, Boeing Boeing, Arsenic and Old Lace or The Merry Wives of Windsor. Yet I promise that we at THEATREWORKS did not really agonize about how we would market those shows. That was easy. And those plays have their important place in a season. But the sad fact is that challenge is a difficult concept to "sell." And yet it's the only thing that theatre has to offer over film. Theatre challenges because it is live, it is visceral and it is theatrical. This is something that the decadents understood. And yes, Salome is a decadent masterpiece.

It IS a good play. But it is extremely challenging. And difficult to produce. It is really hard to get a work like this correct. And in a community in which views on eroticism skew conservative, it will inevitably invite the "I am so offended" comments. That's ok. The warning is necessary. We don't want to offend anyone, feigned or real. But we, in the department, do want to challenge.

Dana Kjeldsen

I'd first like to echo something that Steven mentioned, something that I also noticed the other night. Without spoiling anything, a few newer acting decisions near the end of one of our rehearsals the other night made me put my hand over my mouth and go "...Oh." While this made motivations for my final character much more clear and present and I found I could use those moments to the advantage of my performance, I was legitimately surprised, and that's after knowing what happens and after having worked with the topics of sexuality and decadence for the past few months. I'm very interested and excited to see how the audiences react to this play as a whole, but especially a few very certain moments.

I also, as Steven brought up, hadn't considered the theme of love that is strangely not present in the play. It's all lust and sex, and the only person I think truly feels love is Iokanaan to God. I'm going to need to think more about that - maybe more comments will show up in the near future!

I think I agree with Kevin. I honestly do think "Salome" is a good play. Witty? Perhaps not as much as "The Importance of Being Earnest". It's not meant to be. Difficult? Yes. Oh yes. This is the hardest play I've ever worked on (Kevin warned us about this going into the process, but I didn't actually think it would be - boy, was I wrong!) But bad? I don't think so. The language is absolutely beautiful, in both the English and the French - plenty of both are found in our production. Yes, it's highly dramatic, and even more highly stylized, and people who are accustomed to a more naturalistic or realistic treatment of theatre may find this difficult to handle in more ways than just the content (and I'm not saying naturalist theatre is bad - I love it, but that's definitely not what this is). And I think that's what makes it beautiful. You'll never be able to really see another show like "Salome", and I think that alone makes it worth seeing. Not that that's the only reason to see it. It's big, it's exciting, it's dramatic, it's tragic, and it's really very beautiful.

But it is also challenging. I've had a unique experience with this play, coming from a conservative background, and as most people reading this who know me probably know already, I'm still a Christian today. So how, I can already hear some people saying, can I do a play that portrays a Biblical story in a sexual way? I'd like to mention that if you really want stories of lust and sex, there's plenty of them in the Bible - hence why Wilde got this story from there. And a common argument I think of to this is that the play glorifies these things by showing them. While it is true that we are portraying some very heavy subject matter, I don't think the play in any way rewards the characters for their "sexual deviancy". The tetrarch who desires his step-daughter is practically driven mad, and the princess who demands the head of the object of her desire is...well, again, I don't want to ruin the ending. So there's my defense of the play. Just thought I'd offer a unique side to the argument. I'd like to hear thoughts from other people if they're so inclined to respond. Moving on...

I do think it will make some people uncomfortable, or at the very least it'll get people thinking (and what's wrong with making people think?) It's a risky show, but I'd say it's worth taking the risk. You may get something out of it!

Emily Christensen

In my mind, Salome is not uncomfortable for people because of the blatant sexuality, rather it is because it is the vision of sex without love. In the world of Salome, people are ideals of sexual fantasy, but there is a lack of emotional connection between the characters that alludes to simple lust. Desire is nothing more than a superficial appreciatin of beauty that leads to ultimate demise and ruination. In many ways, Salome is a study of what happens when we look at people in ways that make them loose their humanity in our eyes. As the page of Herodias says, "it is dangerous to look at people in such a fashion, it may bring misfortune".
In this respect, Salome is not an offensive play- rather it is a realization of the dangers of a preoccupation with sex in a way that objectifys people. Like everything, it is crucial to think about what is written in a play. Was Oscar Wilde writing a play to nurse an erotic craving? If you look at the wit in his other plays the answer seems to be decidedly no. You can look at aspects of the play, such as the final scene with salome and the head of John the Baptist and think, "wow that is uncomfortable and sexual, what a risky play" or you can wonder what makes us uncomfortable with the play and why Wilde chose to deliver his message in that particular way.
Personally, I take the end scene as a summary of what he is trying to say. As Salome caresses the head the she so greatly desired, she shows how she doesn't want the human of John the Baptist, she wants the sexual control over the man she lusts after. By taking such a vested interest in possessing another person for sexual pleasure, you in turn loose your humanity. Is it risky to show this uncomfortable tendency of the sex industry on stage? Perhaps. As Dana said, however, it is worth it- especially with a proper amount of thought and analysis!

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