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The current PlayMakers Repertory Company production of Salomé, a macabre and sensuous one-act play originally written in French by Irish poet and dramatist Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), is a triumph. Wilde set out to rattle the cages of the self-righteous, and Salomé does just that.
Brilliantly re-conceived and briskly staged by Tony® Award-winning African-American actress/director Trezana Beverley, this daring multicultural masterpiece employs live music, spectacular dance routines, a striking set and vivid costumes, and a clever new contemporary translation by Matt Di Cintio (commissioned expressly for this production) to transform the familiar brief Bible story into an epic of frustrated desire and murder, with just a dash of incest and necrophilia.
The result is not exactly an episode 1st Century A.D. Palestinian Girls Gone Wild, but it is a truly unforgettable theatrical experience that vividly creates the sight, the sound, and the angst of the cosmopolitan court of King Herod Antipas (PRC company member Kenneth P. Strong), a legendary despot with a roving eye.
Ken Strong, who is arguably the Triangle's best actor, once again gives a regal performance as a malevolent and lecherous monarch who has already murdered his brother so he can marry his sister-in-law, Herodias (PRC company member Kathryn Hunter Williams). After imprisoning the indignant John the Baptist — called Iokanann the Prophet (guest artist Julius Hollingsworth) in Salomé — for denouncing his incestuous marriage, Herod trains his unwelcome amorous attentions on his voluptuous, free-spirited, but still virgin stepdaughter, Salomé (guest artist Beverley Prentice), whom Herod wheedles and cajoles and finally bribes into dancing her infamous "Dance of the Seven Veils."
Salomé, however, is in love with that wild man, Iokanann, with his deep voice and his amazing prophecies about the imminent coming of the long-awaited Messiah of the Jewish people. Herod hates and fears Iokanann, whom he keeps imprisoned in a cistern outside his palace. But Salomé loves the hairy, unkempt prophet; and when Iokanann cruelly rejects her girlish affection and bluntly rebukes her, she asks for his head on a silver platter.
Watching Beverley Prentice slither across the stage as Salomé, it is easily to understand why she could wrap a panting Herod around her little finger and why the rejected suitor Narroboth (Ted Shaffner) would commit suicide for lack of her love. Although eclipsed by Prentice's sultry performance as her nubile daughter, Kathryn Williams still projects a formidable presence as richly robed Herodias, scheming — indeed, steaming — on the sidelines.
Julius Hollingsworth gives a charismatic performance as Iokanann the Prophet. Guest artist Duane Cyrus is totally creepy as Naaman, Herod's lithe but lethal executioner; and PRC company members Jeffrey Blair Cornell and Ray Dooley make favorable impressions as the high-ranking Roman soldier Tigellinus and the First Priest of the Israelites, respectively.
Choreographer Sandra Burton puts sizzle into Salomé's trademark dances, set designer Corey Shipler creates an exceptionally vivid and impressively detailed version of Herod's opulent court, costume designer Marianne Custer outfits the cast in a colorful array of African and Middle Eastern period costumes, lighting designer Kenton Yeager skillfully manipulates his instruments to reproduce an exceptionally eventful moonlit night, and sound designer M. Anthony Reimer artfully modulates the show's live music and ambient sound.
PlayMakers' spectacular production of Salomé, superbly orchestrated by director Trezana Beverley and brilliantly performed by an all-star cast, is a feast for the eye and ear. Don't miss it.
(Note: The biblical story of Salomé — but not her notorious "Dance of the Seven Veils" — can be found in Matthew 14:1-12 and Mark 6:14-29.)
PlayMakers Repertory Company presents Salomé Tuesday-Saturday, April 15-19 and 22-26, and April 29-May 3, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, April 20 and 27 and May 4, at 2 p.m. in the Paul Green Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. $9-$27). NOTE: All tickets are just $9 on Tuesday and seating is first come, first served. 919/962-PLAY (7529) or http://www.playmakersrep.org/ticketspage.html. http://www.playmakersrep.org/salomepage.html and http://www.planetmonk.com/wilde/pdfs/salome.pdf [SALOMÉ in English].