by Oscar Wilde
Leaky Heaven Circus
Russian Hall, 600 Campbell Av.
“Nothing is good in moderation. You cannot know the good in anything until you have torn the heart out of it by excess.” Oscar Wilde’s comment serves as a program note for Leaky Heaven Circus’ take on Wilde’s Salome.
Well, if excess makes the heart grow fonder, you oughta LO-O-O-VE this show. And parts of it are lovable indeed, where Leaky Heaven’s playful style is married to remarkable stagecraft and/or performance in the burlesque of Wilde’s own overheated, baroque version of the classic story. But excess as in too long and too self-indulgent is also at play here. And with all the hype surrounding The Da Vinci Code movie, you have to wonder whether the casual blasphemies in this show are intended to make any kind of serious point, or whether this is just an extended, de-contextualized satirical skit of the Saturday Night Live variety.
Visually, the show is delicious: think Sheherazade meets the Village People, or Cabaret at the Casbah. The decadent court of the Tetrarch Herod (David Petersen) features Catherine Hahn’s outrageous costumes: guys in tight pants and black net shirts, girls in short skirts and black net stockings. Sasa Brown, as a page, has pneumatic boobs the size of small livestock which she strokes and pinches lasciviously—and that’s the least of it.
Long, slim Peter Anderson, in drag, vamps Herodias, the Tetrarch’s wife, in a tight, blue sleeveless gown, cigarette in one hand, cocktail in the other. Lois Anderson’s Salome, Herodias’ daughter, is spectacular in silver lamé. Billy Marchenski, as the Christian prophet Iokanaan, better known as John the Baptist, is simply spectacular: he wears nothing but a loincloth, his hair arranged like a crown of thorns, his remarkably lean, muscled, almost fatless body iconic of ascetic spirituality. When he moans his prophecies and denounces the women of the court, “Daughter of Babylon, Daughter of Sodom,” Salome vibrates, hand between her legs, as if she’s getting sexual electro-shock. When Iokanaan refuses even to look at her, though he’s sorely tempted, Salome makes her deadly deal with Herod, who lusts after her himself. She’ll dance for him if he gives her the prophet’s head.
Here’s one of the places where director Steven Hill should have cut the text severely. Herod goes on for what seems like about a half hour in Wilde’s verse (verst?) dialogue, trying to dissuade Salome from collecting her prize. It’s painfully long, even with the distractions of the women doing sexy things upstage of him.
On the other hand, Salome’s Dance of the Seven Veils is a brilliant series of quick, efficient coups de théâtre: Lois Anderson, an amazing actor, strips naked with the aid of her attendants whose hands cover her breasts and crotch, then slips behind the curtain which billows for a few seconds. Salome’s rendezvous with the severed head is also wonderfully effected. And most of the show’s great moments are underlined by the very fine piano work of Mark Berube, who also provides percussion, sings a couple of terrific songs, and sometimes leads a few of the actors in musical processions.
This show is wildly decadent, definitely outrageous, frequently funny and imaginative, sometimes just silly, sometimes even boring. Definitely not for young kids. Should have been cut by a half hour. But still a better package than Tom Hanks and the Holy Grail.