Roll Over, Oscar
The reading is a neglected and under-rated form; it’s too often seen a half-created production, as if it should be something it doesn’t want to be. Now the form has been commercially elevated to Broadway Salome: The Reading, with Al Pacino.
As for play: at the turn of the century, melodrama
with exoticism to produce a new form.
Its adherents called it “aestheticism”; its critics
“decadence” – the word has the same root as
in is its play of
The story - you may know - is Biblical: Herod
Salome (his wife’s daughter) anything she wants if she’ll
dance for him. She dances the Dance of the
Seven Veils, and
asks for the head of John the Baptist, Herod’s prisoner. John
(Wilde calls him
“Jokanaan”) has made the mistake of rebuffing her advances.
Those familiar with Wilde only through his
manners will be unprepared for Salome.
It’s written in impressively overblown prose.
To take it too seriously would be a mistake.
Wilde was not merely serious – neither was he
merely joking. His insight was to see that there’s nothing more
serious than a
joke. Moreover, within the context of
its own hyperbole, the script is delicate and balanced; Wilde is always
control. He wrote the play in French,
and the writing is as distinctly French as the Alexandrine. Thus, the English script has the advantage of
being a translation – Wilde valued artificiality.
Salome is perfect for the minimalism of a reading. It would take Aubrey Beardsley to design a
set for this play – you’ll recall his deliciously gory
sketches of Salome
holding the head of poor John. Better to
leave to the imagination the mise-en-scene.
In spite of some glaring faults, Salome: The Reading is a
major Broadway event. Marisa Tomei plays
Salome like a spoiled, overgrown Valley Girl, a child/woman effusing
spite. She’s interesting - in spite
her lisp. The Dance of the Seven Veils
is marvelous, as savage as Sacre de
Printemps, with terrific music. Indeed,
the whole play enjoys Yukio Tsuji’s
spooky music. We’re scarcely aware
the keyboard or the percussion, as they underlay the lines.
As for Pacino: he gives us a show of shameless
hubris. He speaks in the childish whine of
American moron – like one of the characters in those cheap movies
makes. He delivers his lines with
self-congratulatory incongruity, making us laugh, like the acting class
who isn’t up to the scene. He
thinks he’s above the material. For
punishment, the audience refuses to take him seriously, and they laugh
when they’re clearly not expected to.
Even when he gives the play’s final line, “Kill that
woman!”, there are
titters from the orchestra.
Indeed, her technical skill aside,
Parsons has made the choice to make exoticism familiar. Throughout, the first syllable of "Salome"
rhymes with “Al”, not with “Ahh”.
makes a masterpiece accessible by dumbing down.
I grant that there’d be no Broadway
production of Salome if
it weren’t for Pacino. And I grant
within the confines of his choices, Pacino is very skilled. But still – there’s no excuse for
trivializing this script. Happily, the
glory of Salome overpowers
the horror of Pacino acting in it. It’s
a victory for Wilde that the show
triumphs over its leading man.
- Steve Capra