MODERN CULTURE CHANGES  "OSCAR WILDE'S SALOME"
photo by Tim Fuller
Gabriella De Brequet as Salomé and Grace Otto as The Slave.

It seems likely, just in general, that when Oscar Wilde first published “Salome” in 1891 there was more than a bit of salacious intent for theatergoers of the time in just that one-word title. The Holy Bible for centuries had made this controversial woman a magnet of attraction, if for no other reason than all men could imagine in their own minds the seductive power of her infamous dance of the seven veils.

Even better, though the dance was clearly about sex, there was no sex in Salome's story, and the story was right there in the Bible – twice, Matthew 14: 3-11 and Mark 6: 17-28.

Right from the get-go, Wilde's “Salome” was banned in England. Not for any lascivious opportunities it might bring to the theater, but because the representation of all Biblical characters on stage was forbidden.

Let it be said, right up front, that the Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre's production of “Oscar Wilde's Salome” directed by Bryan Rafael Falcon, playing at the Historic Y, is quite chaste. There is no nudity of any sort. There is, however, a lot of impressive shouting!

Christopher Younggren as the beleaguered Herod Antipas, Tetrarch of Judaea, stepfather of Salome, shows some massive acting chops as he free-wheels through all five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally, exhausted acceptance before ordering Namman the intimidating executioner in black (Roger Owen) to bring forth the head of John the Baptist. On a silver platter.

Also impressive in their creation of characters mythic in proportion are Hunter Hnat as Jokanaan, the manic Prophet who represents the figure of John the Baptist in this story, and a particularly good Sarah MacMillan as Herodias, mother of Salome and the second wife of Herod Antipas.

Salome, as played by Gabriella De Brequet, is an innocent if willful teen completely lacking in any overt sexuality. Seen today, in our overheated awareness of any form of sexual child abuse, this makes Herod Antipas seem like even more of a pervert. The anticipation of getting to see her dance in bare feet is already driving him a little nuts.

What makes Salome so dangerous in this production is her keen sense of power and her intuitive knowledge of how to wield it. But there is much more to “Oscar Wilde's Salome” than The Dance.

Performed in 105 minutes without intermission, the production's early stages are uneven, put in the hands of less experienced actors whose job is to define the customs and attitudes in pre-Christian times when Judaism was just one of several religions competing for everyone's attention. Christianity was sort of a new idea, considered a big joke with its invisible God.

When Herod Antipas hears there is a guy named Jesus out in the desert who claims to raise the dead, the ruler goes bananas. Herod Antipas absolutely refuses to allow anyone to raise the dead. The act is immediately declared to be against the law. It is just indecent.

And maybe kind of scary, he realizes. What king in those times wanted to contend with former enemies coming back to life to challenge the new king's power?

Such insights start jiggling your Biblical knowledge a bit and pretty soon you're thinking, hey wait a minute, maybe Salome isn't the evil person she was made out to be when you went to Sunday School. Maybe the whole point of the story isn't to warn men to beware of the duplicitous nature of women.

Maybe the new view is to see Salome as more power oriented, taking command of a situation and making her mother proud. Several times Herodias insists her daughter is doing the right thing.

After every performance the Scoundrel & Scamp cast comes back onstage to discuss all the different ways to interpret Wilde's play and his elaborate symbolism. Food for thought will be served. As they are saying down at the Historic Y these days, come for the veils, but stay for the philosophy.

Oscar Wilde's Salome” runs through Feb. 18 with performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, plus 2 p.m. matinees Saturday and Sunday, at the Historic Y, 738 N. Fifth Ave. Tickets are $28, with discounts available. For details and reservations, 225-0677, scoundrelandscamp.org 



THIS "FANTASTICKS" FITS THE 21st CENTURY
From left, Tony Caprile, Damian  Garcia, (behind) Elena Lucia Terry, Kelly Coates and G.L. James celebrate love.

Even if you have already seen “The Fantasticks” (and who hasn't, the play's long-running history holds numerous records all over the world), you must see the Winding Road Theatre Ensemble's robust production directed by Maria Caprile.

If Caprile ever wrote a book about how to direct, it would be titled “Always Want More.” No matter how much you might expect from this timeless play, this cast is determined to give you more.

Whether you want deliberately outrageous, over the top, maximum ham bone acting (Chad Davies as The Old Actor and Eddie Diaz as Mortimer); sweetly endearing innocent lovers (Kelly Coates and Damian Garcia as The Girl and The Boy); good-natured neighborliness (Tony Caprile and G.L. James as The Girl's Father and The Boy's Father) or a Tall and Distinguished El Gallo (Mark Hockenberry); it's all here. Handcrafted right before your eyes and immediately delivered to your seat.

But my personal favorite is Elena Lucia Terry as the delightfully imaginative clown-like character known as The Mute.

You could also call her The Mime, but that would be terribly misleading. For one thing, she is never annoying. Without a single word of dialogue, Terry creates a fully blossomed personality involved with each of the other characters. Classically trained in ballet, she also gets a couple of chances to perform en pointe.

The Fantastics” debuted off-Broadway in 1960. A world far removed from the chaotic cultural conflicts of today. Back then, the same year John F, Kennedy was elected President, the homespun show that flaunts its low-budget roots must have reminded audience members of the funny plays they would stage in their school cafeterias.

Seen today – when marriage is something kids might or might not get around to doing sometime – “The Fantastics” seems more like a fairy tale. The premise begins with two fathers who are neighbors, hoping their respective son and daughter get married when they grow up.

So the two fathers insist the two youngsters can never see each other and certainly never think about liking each other. The fathers even build a brick wall dividing their properties.

Of course, the boy and girl become fascinated by each other. They overcome all sorts of obstacles as hilarity ensues. By intermission they have sworn themselves to wed each other.

But it is only intermission. Act Two is when all the real doubts and complications – as well as all the tidal waves of laughter – sweep trough the theater.

As for the songs, “Try To Remember” and “Soon It's Gonna Rain” are the hits. They receive a nice presentation, but the novelty songs seem to work a little better.

Harriet Siskin, as musical director and keyboard accompanist, conducts an ensemble of Katie Damon, harp, Brenton M. Kossak, bass and Darin Guthrie, percussion.

"The Fantasticks” plays through Feb. 18 in the upstairs Cabaret Space of the Temple and Music and Art, 330 S. Scott Ave. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, matinees at 3 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $22-$28. For details and reservations, 401-3626.