Gale Theatre Company's Salomé
This original drama reworks the familiar tale to give us a new perspective on the Judean princess
Reviewed by Robert Faires, Fri., Aug. 19, 2016
The Dance of the Seven Veils is done. The head of the Baptist has been given to her. But that is not the end of the story for Salomé – for this Salomé. When we first see the Judean princess in Gale Theatre Company's original version of her biblical tale, she's sitting bolt upright, eyes wide and gasping for air, as if she's just awakened from a nightmare. And in a sense, she has. She has had a man killed, a holy man, a man with whom she was fascinated, obsessed, perhaps even in love. She used her position of privilege and another's obsession with her to have the man executed. And why? Because he didn't succumb to her beauty as so many men have? Because of his insistent talk of God, his unshakable faith? She sits staring and gasping, and her mind does what minds often do when faced with an incomprehensible act: It replays the events leading up to it in an attempt to make some sense. And soon, John the Baptist is alive again, and Salomé is speaking with him, and Herod, the king who wed her mother, is again gazing at Salomé, his eyes glazed with desire.
Though most of this production plays out as if Salomé's story is happening for the first time, the idea that this is Salomé's reflection on what occurred is key to how we see the character. She is not gloating. She is not preening. She is in shock and must relive the nightmare, enduring the pain of sifting through her own behavior – spoiled and spiteful as it might have been – to find meaning, to move forward. The image crafted by director Katherine Wilkinson, lighting designer Rachel Atkinson, and Gabriela Pedraza as Salomé is haunting enough that it sticks in the memory as the princess reverts to her prior self, baiting the Baptist, being mystified by his talk of love, and luxuriating in the spell she casts on men. For much of the hour that the show runs, Pedraza looks less interested in projecting the character's mythic sensuality than in capturing the attentions of the one man who resists Salomé's allure, John. It's easy to understand her fascination with him here; as played by Kriston Woodreaux, he's a commanding figure, physically imposing, with a voice that booms authority – he's more regal than any of the royals we see.
Still, Salomé's seductiveness is conveyed through repeated injunctions by characters not to look on her, as if she were a Medusa who, with no more than a gaze, could reduce a man to a lump of lust. That certainly seems the case with Tim Mateer's Herod, whose mesmerized stare and vulpine leer say everything about how he sees Salomé. And there's the dance, that legendary act through which Salomé bends Herod to her will and finally breaks him. As seen in Mateer's face, it succeeds in that, although the movement here doesn't seem focused on arousal or anything carnal. The movement by Earl Kim and Pedraza's performance of it are more suggestive of a sorceress' conjurations, a frenzy of steps and gestures bringing forth something primal, and Salomé looks to be as caught up in it as anyone watching her. Her request for John's head on a silver platter comes across not as the culmination of a deliberate plan by a vindictive woman but as a decision made in the heat of passion without a full understanding of its consequences – an act that cannot be revoked, a life that cannot be restored.
The aftermath, when her request has been fulfilled, shows a Salomé who has lost her sense of self and must repeat her name and station as a means of asserting her identity. But what kind of princess would behave so cruelly? Pedraza's repetition of Salomé's name comes in an increasingly shaky voice, as the figures around her – a page, a Syrian, Herod, and her mother Herodias (Megan Rabuse, playing an embittered Martha to Herod's George in a biblical Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) – move mechanically, their faces blank, suggesting a world that has also lost meaning. In their world, love was always tied to sex and power. But the way John used the word – "God loves you," "I love you" – it held a different, richer meaning, one she seems just unable to grasp. Could she have comprehended it if she hadn't killed him? At the end, Salomé sits bolt upright, eyes wide and gasping for air. She's back where she started.
SaloméThe Vortex, 2307 Manor Rd.
Through Aug. 20
Running time: 1 hr.