A Severed Head, A Stepdaughter, and Slides

Black Moon Theatre Company’s adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s Salome brings the character, Salome, to the center of the production as the victim of a morally corrupt society. Presented as a multi-media, poetic allegory for our times, the production, directed by René Migliaccio, plays like a slow moving reality show filled with temper tantrums, manipulation, and petty displays of power. Wilde’s tragic, one act play tells the Biblical story of Salome, performed by Karina Fernicola-Ikezoe, who requests the head of Iokanaan/John the Baptist, performed by Chris Ryan, on a silver platter as a reward for dancing the Dance of the Seven Veils for her lustful step father, King Herod Antipas, by Alessio Bordoni. The request is made much to the delight of her mother Herodias, by Tatyana Kot, who has been enraged by the prophet’s slights against herself.

The production applies Migliaccio’s performance technique “Expressionistic Realism,” which according to their site <a href= http://www.blackmoontheatrecompany.org/aboutUs/expressionisticRealism.html “uses gesture, mask and movement to physically express emotions and thoughts” to find and express the emotional cores of the characters. At the same time, it attempts to shift the focus of the story away from the Judeo-Christian interpretation of women as evil seductresses to Salome as a victim and by-product of a decadent and sick society.

What emerges, however, is a stilted presentation of the rich and spoiled – Herod, Herodias, and Salome – who are contrasted to and obsessed with Iokanaan/John the Baptist, who seems to embody icon Jim Morrison from the Doors in his dress and physicality. The emotional pathos is lost in the frozen facial expressions and gestures and the very slow pacing of the production.

The costumes, by Hope Governali, are modern with clean lines and symbolic uses of color. The Chorus, clothed in uniforms of black suits and ties, contrasts with the rich dress of Herod, Herodias, and Salome, as well as the dirt colored rag worn by Iokanaan/John the Baptist. The Chorus is performed by Marc Thomas Engberg as Cappadocian, A Slave, Second Soldier, and Another Jew; John Graham as The Page of Herodias; Olgierd Minkiewicz as The Young Syrian and A Jew; and Kevin Whittinghill as The First Soldier and Nazareen. For those actors playing multiple roles, the character signifier – their tie changes – is not always clear, thus their characters are not always sufficiently distinct.

Billed as a multi-media adaptation with collages and set design by India Evans, the production, however, makes minimal use of slide projections as backdrops. The imagery projected on an upstage scrim and often interrupted by the performer’s bodies reads as a mix of symbolic ritualistic imagery and pulp novel book covers that mirror rather then illuminate each scene.

Although a dominant element in the design, the images offer little more than a lit upstage wall that divides the space between the primary playing area in the foreground and an upstage space revealed by backlighting the scrim. This upstage space alternately functions as a passageway for entrances and exits and as a window into the cistern where Iokanaan/John the Baptist is imprisoned. It is the effective use of lighting, designed by Jason Sturm, to define and create spaces as well as bring out different psychic locations that carries us through this story, not the slide show.

The make up design, by Satoko –Ichinose, contributes a Japanese Noh mask design element. The choreography, by Natasa Trifan and nicely performed by Fernicola-Ikezoe, references modern as well as traditional Indian and Persian traditions. The music, by Amaury Groc, only occasionally intrudes into the environment. It is used either as a dramatic element to foreshadow or build tension, or as a backdrop for the Salome’s Dance of the Seven Veils.

Despite the commitment of the performers and some visually interesting stage moments resulting from Migliaccio’s performance technique, rather then a stylized production leading to an emotional truth, the production plods along. The tragedy and emotional tension is lost in static moments and juvenile tantrums. Neither the technique nor the visual elements is quite able to move Wilde’s play from its Biblical roots to something more pertinent to our times.

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