Monday, November 5, 2007


I'm not sure if this is starting to be a trend, but Richard and I actually got to see another show together--this time at Lansing Community College.

They're performing a modern version of Oscar Wilde's Salome and what a performance it was. I hardly would have recognized it as a Wilde, so intense was Director Lela Ivey's vision of the show, a vision that was very different from Wilde's. She had a story to tell and everything about this production was committed to that story.

Abby Murphy as Salome was amazing. At one point, my mouth was literally gaping at her agility and I more than once smiled at her vocal range in which even her whispers were as clear as her shouts. I didn't always agree with the character choices that were made, but they were consistent with the show's overall theme. Perhaps that is what was most impressive about Murphy's performance--her absolute commitment to the role and the choices made by the director. I never doubted that Murhpy had an intimate understanding of her character and of the story that they were trying to tell.

Salome is a highly demanding role and perhaps one of the most thankless ones in the play. While other characters were able to indulge in fun bits and business, the part of Salome is constantly intense and constantly out of step with the mood and obsessions of the other characters. She is in her own world even while the rest of her world is aggressively going in a different direction. She cannot see past her own desires and has a streak of cruelty that underlies her manipulation of all those around her.

Murphy gave us a narcissistic Salome who could switch from alluring to demanding to pouty to triumphant in breathtaking seconds. It was a stellar performance that she can and should be proud of.

Dana Brazil as Herodias, Salome's mother, was instantly identifiable as a professional. The role is a fun part and Brazil played it to its fullest. Every movement, every word was deliberate, contributing to the story without ever crossing the line into self-indulgence (something some of the less experienced performers were guilty of).

Brian DeVries was equally at home on the stage, creating a jealous and superstitious Herod frustratingly buffeted by forces and desires that he couldn't control. His impotence gave him an appeal and his longing for Salome was achingly powerful. He and Brazil were a perfect team, moving about the stage almost as if they were counterweights, creating stage pictures that added to the tensions of their relationship.

Director Ivey and her three main actors also did a fantastic job of building the tension. There were moments of levity early on with Herod and various party guests contributed to that atmosphere while being strange enough to keep anyone from getting comfortable. Brazil and deVries worked on several emotional levels so that the conflict built without playing out too soon.

The final bloody scene was intense and exhilarating in its horror.

I would not call Salome a perfect production despite the incredible performances from the leads. There were some disjointed moments and flaws that reminded the audience that this was a student production with a wide range of ability and talent amongst its actors.

Murphy, de Vries, Brazil, and Marianne Chan were all perfectly at home with the heightened language, making it believable and natural. Some of the other actors did not have the same comfort level and failed to excise the starchness from their delivery.

In the opening scenes there was a disco dance piece that looked poorly rehearsed. If the disjointedness and inability to move together was a choice--a choice that could have been valid given the story and its themes--it wasn't an obvious enough choice. Instead, it simply looked accidental. Perhaps that's something that will be more precise during their second weekend.

After the recorded curtain speech, the director chose to play a full song (I believe by The Cure, but don't quote me on that). Yes, the song may have been meant to prepare the audience for the themes of the show, but it was ineffective. Most of the audience, once they realized the play wasn't starting, resumed talking to one another until the lights went out again. It's difficult to keep an audience's attention with a pre-recorded song when it has come for a live performance. At least, it was in this instance.

Nicolas Gamboa as Jokanaan (more popularly known as John the Baptist) had good physicality and movement, but that was about it. His vocal work was poor, especially when contrasted with Murphy's flexibility. Gamboa declaimed rather than spoke. He was neither believable nor desirable. He was especially difficult to understand when his voice was projected as prophecies through the sound system.

I'm still of mixed mind about Ben Green's set. It was certainly wonderfully constructed and imposing. What it meant and how it fit in with the story was slightly more obscure and I'm still deciding whether it was a set for a set's sake or whether it did contribute to the story.

Those criticisms aside, it's still a show I would recommend seeing for the fortissimo performances of Murphy, Brazil, and deVries.

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