Old-Testament Decadents

The story of Lot (Genesis, verses 18-19) is filled with fascinating themes and ambiguities. While the destruction of the city of Sodom is often cited as an example of God's vengeance upon homosexuals, this may come more from misinterpretations than scholarly Biblical exegesis. Unfortunately, the new dance theater piece Sodom's Wife fails to illuminate much that is troubling about the Biblical text and focuses on gently spoofing the traditional interpretation. The basic story may be familiar: God is about to wipe out the wicked—though not necessarily homosexual—cities of the plains, Sodom and Gomorrah, but Abraham bargains with him to save his nephew, Lot, who has recently moved there. Two angels come to visit Lot and tell him that he needs to take his family out of town before God smites it with fire and brimstone.

The townsfolk surround Lot's house and demand that he hand over the angels to them—for the purpose, in traditional interpretations, of a homosexual gang rape. Lot offers the men his two virgin daughters instead, but the men are not satisfied. The angels, however, come out and blind the townsfolk. At dawn the next day, Lot and his family leave. Despite a warning, Lot's wife looks back at the city, and she is transformed into a pillar of salt. Lot escapes with his daughters to a cave, where they get their father drunk and trick him into having sex with them in order to carry on the family line.

In Sodom's Wife, the narrator, a prissy drag queen (Michael Shattner) in a sequined, butterfly-shaped top, introduces vignettes with treacly jingles. A few supporting characters—a madame, a prostitute, a junkie, and a satyr-like clown—are added to help flesh out the story line, while the angels of the original story appear as women playing sexless, almost robotic space aliens from a planet near Vulcan.

Director Erin Brindley seems to have wanted to contrast the simple, homespun look of Lot and his family with this queer assortment of decadent creatures. The problem, however, is that the actors playing the native Sodomites are too wooden to capture the all-out extravagance necessary for a campy fantasia. And while Charles Hendricks, as Lot, has the most glowing stage presence, he sometimes declaims his lines.

The play alternates between spoken scenes with more traditional theatrical blocking and movement sequences sometimes punctuated with music. The spoken scenes were developed over many months through improv exercises with the actors, and they lack the linguistic verve of incisive playwriting. Their structure is loosely that of a memory play while Lot's wife is suspended in her moment of looking back. By the time Shattner announces, "And—another memory," I thought I heard a groan in the audience.

The movement sequences, on the other hand, are overwrought and underdeveloped: characters play games of red light-green light, pantomime a tree (several times), wrestle on the ground to mimic sex, or perform simple dance steps. The least-clichéd movement scene, though, is when the characters re-enact different ways that Sodom may have been destroyed—as the methods of destruction become more absurd, the characters' actions grow sillier. The characters seem to be having fun for once, and the audience does, too.

The final destruction scene, though, is theatrically underwhelming: a few lights flicker, the angels walk around "zapping" the citizens of Sodom, and Lot's family climbs on steps around the stage's periphery. This feels far from fire and brimstone.

The playbill mentions that the original concept, ironically planned before Hurricane Katrina, was to change the setting to New Orleans. Perhaps the collaborators of Ripple Productions scrapped this idea because they didn't want to court controversy or seem unduly tactless or timely.

Nonetheless, if a company were to properly stage this mythical spectacle of sex and violence, it would do well to have a more daring and decadent spirit. Chintzy bead necklaces, a miniature Mardi Gras float, candy coins tossed at the audience, and video projections of actual news footage might have given the play the edge Ripple was seeking.

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