Jacqueline Ashkin reviews ‘Salomé’, directed by Tyler Anderson and produced by Alexandra Bliziotis, which went up as a part of the On the Rocks Festival.

 

10603318_10206265704431194_7137419759210888652_n

 

It is easy to see why Salomé was banned during rehearsals of the original production in the early 1890s. In the play, Oscar Wilde brings to life the circumstances surrounding the death of John the Baptist, Jokanaan (Miles Peckover), ill-fated by the beautiful step-daughter of Herod Antipas (Ben Glaister). On Tuesday, as a part of On the Rocks, Wilde’s Salome was brought to life, directed by Tyler Anderson and produced by Alexandra Bliziotis

As I entered the Byre Studio, I was greeted not only by the beautiful (scantily-clad) slaves of Salomé, but a visual smorgasbord. The small venue was immaculately decorated, the focus on a large dining table that the audience sat on either side of. Lush carpets and silver-toned fruits lay across the table as various characters stood frozen in exquisite, opulent dress. I found the set, costume, and make up design to be one of the most impressive aspects of the production.

But, to me, importance of aesthetic overpowered the play as a whole. Space, sound, light, and flesh were used creatively, however, there was less attention to the actor’s lines. At times this creativity overwhelmed the text entirely, so that the actors’ words were barely intelligible. The highlights of the show for me were the dance numbers, where the dialogue was less important than the visual presentation. My personal favorite was the dance scene with the angels and demons – the aesthetic aspects came together to create a single vision. This unity, while thought provoking, was only one moment, and did not carry on throughout the production.

Overall, the main cast was very strong. Ben Glaister captured the essence of drunken, lecherous Herod Antipas almost uncomfortably well. Herodias, played by Marianna Accorti, was brilliantly acted, but it felt like she almost overacted to compensate for her accent, which really wasn’t necessary. Throughout the show, her mad bouts of laughter reminded the audience of the full madness of her character, which she capture effortlessly in her wild expressions and flying locks. Glaister and Accorti played well off each other to create the domestic tension the play calls for.  Jemima Tyssen Smith gave an admirable performance of Herodias’ daughter Salome, oozing sensuality even when she was not the center of the action. The mother-daughter dynamic was one of the strongest aspects of the play, although Tyssen Smith seemed to bring her intensity to all her on-stage interactions. In contrast to her beauty stood Jokanaan. a broken man clinging desperately to his God. Miles Peckover’s voice, at times difficult to understand, also made him all the more believable.

Performances by the ensemble were more varied. The standout performance of the night, for me, was the supporting role of Alasdair Bird, who played Narraboth, a young Syrian guard who finds his undoing in the enrapturing Salome. Tasnim Siddiqa Amin was a close second with her portrayal of the old Cappadocian woman.

Anderson’s vision was impressive, but the final product was difficult to qualify. The show was in many ways overproduced, and for this reason ranged from being hugely effective to entirely overwhelming. On the whole, simple moments were missing. Filled with music or lighting, the aesthetics overwhelmed the sheer power of the actors’ performances. But at the same time it utterly scintillating- not a hair appeared out of place. A beautiful piece of art, and very aesthetically powerful, yet, as a play, the dialogue needed to be more of the focus.

 

 

Jacqueline Ashkin

 

 

Photo Credit: https://www.facebook.com/events/1378614812462737/