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A CurtainUp DC Review
Salomé, now premiering at the Shakespeare Theatre's Harman Center, is visually stunning. Director Yaël Farber, Lighting Designer Donald Holder and Scenic/Costume Designer Susan Hilferty have created an environment that is simple and yet complex. The outer ring on the stage revolves, beneath the stage is a pool of water and large swaths of cloth (seven veils) descend from the top of the theater — their colors changed by extremely imaginative lighting. The young and beautiful Salomé makes a very dramatic entrance.
As the outer rim of the stage turns, we meet the characters. Romans, clothed in flowing skirts with a hint of armored protection at their necks are forbidden from entering the Temple. They talk about the need for roads and aquaducts, a particular skill of theirs, but they do not want to shed blood to achieve their aims. The Jews, wearing leather straps around their arms (tefillin), don't want to pay for water. Taxes are a matter of contention. And then, as if to say here is a gift from heaven, water pours from the ceiling, in cascades enhanced by superb lighting.
The Nameless Woman ( Olwen Fouéré, memorably dynamic and yet unapproachable), talks almost in riddles. Her long white hair and deep, deep voice embody gravitas. The meaning of her words, like the rest of the lines or, as the program states, adaptation from the Bible by Yaël Farber is hard to decipher. Because the multi-national and eclectically ethnic cast speak in Arabic, Hebrew and English, the text can be confusing, the audience is at times left somewhat quizzical.
The plot follows the story of Herod's step-daughter Salomé, played by the very beautiful and very Middle Eastern looking Nadine Malouf who, when in the spotlight which is often, exposes more than just her feminine wiles. But the ending of this tale of Salomé differs from what we were taught in school. This Salomé has a feminist twist.
The supporting cast is fine: Ramzi Choukair as Iokanaan/John the Baptist is very effective and Richard Saudek as Yeshua the Madman (who is not so crazy) stand out as they move the exposition forward. Yaél Farber's adaptation is sometimes repetitious and sometimes elliptical; words are less her forte than her tableaux vivant and visual illusions which are indeed brilliant.
Farber's work has been well received internationally and the list of awards she has received is indeed very long. But I look forward to seeing her direction of a play that is more linear and less pretentious than this Salomé.