By Punch Preview Correspondent Lindsey Clark
SCENA Theatre, now in its 25th Anniversary Season, is staging an unconventional production of Oscar Wilde’s 1891 play, Salomé. Based on the biblical story of the temptress who demanded the head of John the Baptist on a silver charger, Wilde’s Salomé is the ultimate femme fatale, first falling into a nearly depraved obsession with the prophet, and then ordering his execution when he fails to succumb to her beauty. The stepdaughter of the powerful King Herod, Salomé is not a woman to be trifled with, which is clearly evident by the lengths to which she will go to get what she wants – including seducing her mother’s husband.
In an interesting and creative departure from Wilde’s version, SCENA takes the New Testament-era story and thrusts it into the roaring 1920’s. A time period often associated with alcohol and over-indulgence, the decade’s ideals are reflected in the movement and delivery of the cast – they seem to drip as decadently around Salomé as any sting of pearls, and SCENA Creative Director Robert McNamara made some innovative choices in re-interpreting the provocative story for the stage at Atlas Performing Arts Center. Salomé herself seems as manipulative as she is naive, lost in a childish infatuation with what she cannot have, and playing her stepfather to get it – Herod asks her to dance for him (and I don’t mean dance like doing the Dougie if you know what I’m saying) in exchange for anything in his kingdom. Salomé accepts, knowing his agreement will mean the beheading of the prophet who has denied her. John the Baptist (or Jokanaan as he’s called here), locked away in his cell, calls out to the court, spewing words against the evils of their frivilous ways, but his rants are heard as nothing more than the babbling of a mad man, rather than the warnings they are meant to be. When Salomé is finally presented with his head, she lovingly (if not disturbingly) caresses it in the play’s closing scene, revealing a stark contrast between the beauty she appears to be and the beast she actually is. SCENA’s Salomé is definitely not your standard, by-the-book performance, and the unusual staging and the intimacy of the small set works surprisingly well in connecting the audience – if not entirely pulling us in – to the action.
Salomé runs at Atlas through August 18th with performances on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 8 pm, with a 3pm matinee on Sunday the 18th. Tickets are $20-40 and are available here. Get to the Atlas district this week and see the play being billed as: Bewitching. Beguiling. Beheading.
As SCENA searches for a permanent space to call home, the company will stage readings of short plays and poetry in various venues around DC – check their website for dates and locations for upcoming readings such as exceprts from Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray.
As the Punch Premiere Correspondent, Lindsey covers all things music and theater related. When not writing for Pamela’s Punch, Lindsey has a seriously sweet gig as Executive Assistant at the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (www.pcah.gov). Aside from writing and seeing as much live music as possible, you can usually find her on a running trail, in front of a painting, staring at her dog, Lincoln, or hanging out with her big sister and fellow Punch Correspondent Niki Clark. Follow her on twitter @lindseykayclark. Contact Lindsey at firstname.lastname@example.org.