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Friday, April 28, 2006

Salome



Salome is Oscar Wilde's play adaptation of the Biblical legend of King Herod and his desire for his wife's daughter, Salome. After trying unsuccessfully to sexually seduce John the Baptist, Salome takes advantage of King Herod's lust. Using the promise of a seductive dance, and flirtation she tries to manipulate him into helping her take revenge on the prophet who she loves.... but cannot have.

The play as originally written by Oscar Wilde, wasn't really meant to be performed, but actually was supposed to be read for the beauty of the language.

This particular production was first developed and performed at the Actor's Studio in Brooklyn with David Strahairm as John the Baptist, Diane Wiest as Herod's wife, and Al Pacino as King Herod. When the play later moved to off-Broadway, Marisa Tomei came aboard as the title character.

In this production, the setting is a blank stage with chairs, and music stands. The staging is reminiscent of a staged reading, with the performers actually carrying the script, and having it on hand throughout the whole play. The dress is modern black suits with the character Salome alone wearing the only color of red and pink.

Looking over the director's notes the reason why director Estelle Parsons used this type of staging is because she wanted the action to feature, and focus on the language of the piece.

Which brings me to my first issue with this production. I personally feel plays, especially ones that people pay lots of money to watch, should be performed rather than read.

Indeed the most powerful moments in the piece came when the actors took center stage without script in hand, and actually performed. I guess some audience members might find the whole exercise unique, and interesting. But being an actor, and having seen and performed many plays, not to mention taken part in stage readings, I just found the whole experience very pretentious.

The whole idea of a stage reading is to give interested producers, directors, actors, designers, audience members...etc an idea of the potential of the piece. It's also a way to showcase the writer's work without the interpretations and ideas of the other artists involved.

Which this production clearly has.

The play is trying to give the ILLUSION of a stage reading. But the actors are giving well rounded interpretations, and the piece is very obviously directed, and staged.....although with a minimalist approach.

Besides that, to give the illusion of a stage reading is not only visually boring, it's also not productive to the play.

I guess there's justification for this staging..... as I said earlier, the piece as written is not very dramatic. It consists of many long speeches, with beautiful elaborate language, with little or no dramatic interaction between the characters. Estelle Parsons probably felt she was doing the play a service by having the audience use their own imaginations. That maybe the human mind can create a more fascinating environment than any artist could. But after considering the production, I feel the director took the easy route by not trying to make the piece more visually, and dramatically interesting. I think it doesn't serve the piece by making the concept of the show......... no concept.

It's actually more distracting to the audience to have actors pretend to turn the page in their script when they are so obviously off book, and to have actors stuck performing in their chairs and interacting with characters as if they are out in the audience instead of being right next to them on stage. To me it doesn't serve the dramatic purpose of the play.

It just feels like artistic mumbo jumbo.

At times it makes the piece feel like a bad coffee shop artist interpretation of Oscar Wilde's work. It's almost ironic that the play is being performed in Los Angeles. It feels like new age Los Angeles art trying to be innovative off-Broadway work.

Also being a stage reading, the production is a victim of poor sight lines. I feel bad for people who paid $95 bucks, and are visually obscured by some stupid music stand, chair or a insignificant chorus member, and are unable to see Pacino's expressive, often times poignant reactions to his fellow actors. Unfortunately, as I was walking out, I heard many people complaining about how most of the time, they weren't even able to see him.

That sucks.

In all honesty this play wouldn't even be done at all without the participation of Mr. Al Pacino. I can guarantee nobody...I mean nobody.... would come and see this type of production unless an actor of his stature was involved with the piece. Not to mention pay $95 dollars a seat. God bless the soap opera star who tries to mount this style of production, hoping for good reviews, and an audience. They would not only be booed off the stage, the box office would be demolished by angry patrons wanting their money back.

But since Al Pacino is doing this production, people are not only paying the $69-95 dollars a seat, but they are also buying t-shirts at 25 dollars, hats at 20.00 and signed posters for 200.00 a piece. I was lucky to get tickets for free. But I was suckered into buying a t-shirt. Which not only makes me feel foolish, but had me questioning my masculinity at my time of purchase.

But in the end it's Al Pacino, and although he does do lots of theatre. I don't usually have the opportunity, not to mention bank book to afford, to watch him perform in a play....especially in Los Angeles.

If people are going to see this production to get a glimpse of Pacino's ability as an actor they won't be disappointed.

It takes several minutes before he actually arrives, but when he does, he easily steals the show. It's not surprising to see why he is considered one of the greatest actors of all time.

He is thrilling to watch.

He delivers a performance that is captivating and fascinating. I mean he's Al friggin' Pacino, what else is one going to expect?

But what's most clear is how well Al Pacino's acting style suits the theatre so much better than in film. Things I would normally feel as being over the top, or not realistic on film, come off as subtle, honest and powerful on stage. In my book I think Al Pacino should retire from film, and become a theatre rat.

He should become the next Laurence Olivier.

If people have the chance they should watch him do anything on stage. I mean anything....I'd even recommend watching him play Daddy Warbucks on stage in a production of Annie.....with Justin Timberlake in drag for the title role.

Well...maybe not.

But seriously he's that good.

I can't imagine what it was like to see him perform on stage in Glengarry Glen Ross. I thought he was great in the movie, man he must've of been amazing to watch in person. Or to watch him do Shakespeare. Something that he's incredibly passionate about. Man, that must be pretty damn cool.

As for this performance, Mr. Pacino's booming, expressive voice, and his fiery passion is in full display here. It's a fascinating, and affable performance. His Herod is slightly foppish, drunken, funny, scary, tortured and enthralling to witness. It's a memorable, if not great performance. I don't think I'm overstating it by saying that it's a chance to see a master of his craft, at the top of his game, at work.

As for the others, Jessica Chastain is interesting, and seductive in the title role. Kevin Anderson is engaging as John the Baptist, while Roxanne Hart compliments Pacino well as Harod's wife.

But make no mistake, this is Al Pacino's show.

The play is almost non-existent until he arrives. It's just unnecessary exposition, and silly, uninspired poetry. It's really the ONLY reason to see the show, to watch Pacino at work. Apparently there's whispers that he's working on a film adaptation/documentary of the piece. Sort of in the vein of Looking for Richard.

Now THAT would be interesting.

Salome is playing at the Wadsworth Theatre in Los Angeles through May 14th. The play is a one-act, and it runs about an 1 hour and 20 minutes..... by my watch.



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