Salome at Shakespeare Theatre Company
"It begins at the end."
It makes sense to start there. Everyone has heard the name Salome, they know she asked for John the Baptist's head on a platter. But what else do you know?
In this pared-down and yet sumptuous and beautifully stylized piece from acclaimed adapter/director Yaël Farber, the story is told in a way you've never seen before. By intertwining the Biblical story in with ancient Hebraic and Arabic texts, it comes alive in a way I didn't expect. We begin with the Nameless Woman (Olwen Fouéré), presumably the later-in-life Salome, speaking about that night at Machareus, but never quite giving enough details. At the same time, a younger girl is beaten, tied to a chair, and questioned by Pontius Pilate (T. Ryder Smith) about that night. And then suddenly, a man in a white linen sheet comes through the audience, speaking in (what I'm pretty sure) is Aramaic. It's John the Baptist (Ramzi Choukair), come to piss everyone off. The priests are mad that he's baptizing people and not paying dues to the temple. Pontius Pilate is mad that he's not telling people to be nice to Rome. The only person that isn't upset is Salome - in fact, she defies all rules and goes to visit John in the cistern in which he's been imprisoned. The journey into the cistern is the most harrowing part of the whole show - I won't tell you why, but I will say that if you're afraid of heights, you're not going to love it. My favorite question this show asks is spendidly articulated by Drew Lichtenberg (literary manager at Shakespeare Theatre): What power does a woman's voice have when it has been written in a man's voice? Anyone that knows this story has likely heard of it because of the Bible, or perhaps all of the art that has been made on this subject - all of which had been created by men. This finally puts the story in the hands of the women of this story, and while it goes along with the same storyline that we all know, it's a little different, it's treated more gently and savagely in the hands of women. I realize that sounds weird, but the Nameless Woman, our guide through this world, does not shy away from how she was treated by Pontius Pilate, or what happen with her father, but it is not the main focus of her tale. SHE is the focus. What she experienced, what she learned, what she gained. And that is so important.
The show only runs 90 minutes, and it's so easy to get caught up in the beautiful movements and the music (two unbelievable singers provide a beautiful backdrop to the more dramatic bits of the story, sounding foreign and sad) and the story - I want to tell you everything but I just can't bring myself to spoil it for you! Even to me that sounds like a cop-out for writing, and I feel badly about it. Get over to the Lansburgh to see this thing, man. It runs through November 8.
The Lansburgh Theatre, Shakespeare Theatre Company
through November 8