COVID has continued to have its impact on local theatre. There have been quite a few different responses to the unique challenges posed by online video presentation. Video can be like any other factor in performance. It can add, detract, enhance or distract from any given production. It’s interesting to see what video does to Oscar Wilde’s Salomé in the new production being streamed by The Village Playhouse this month. The fully-produced studio theatre staging of Wilde’s one-act is presented in a full-color, low-res Zoom format that does interesting things to the themes being presented in Wilde’s take on the biblical tale.
It’s a very comfy staging. The set is small and humble. The lighting has a cool, relaxing blue about it in the foreground and a brightly overpowering red about it in the background. Hannah Kubiak is enjoyably haughty in the title role. She feels an aloof fascination with John the Baptist and demands things of him that he’s not willing to give. Later-on Eric and Stacy Madson appear onstage as Salomé’s parents Herod and Herodias. They’re just as arrogant and entitled as she is. He wants his daughter to dance for him. His wife doesn’t want her to dance. Things get weird and ugly.
Wilde’s unique talent for showing the overwhelming pettiness of the ruling class is put to good work here. These are epic characters from one of the most widely-read books in human history, but they might as well be the people living next door. There isn’t anything larger-than-life abotu them in the way they are presented onstage for screen. Kubiak could have played the haughtiness of Salomé in full-blown knock-down drag-out Kardashain-esque exaggeration, but she plays it casual. Similarly the dialogue between her parents could have been blown-up to heroically arrogant proportions, but the Madsons play it casual. This is a kind and a queen in a throne room, but it could really be any married couple anywhere at almost any point in history.
With very little glamor and very little editing, there’s something vaguely hypnotic about bringing this story into one’s living room. The low-res video isn’t so faded as to be a distraction from the comedy and drama of Wilde’s script, but it. In its own way it’s quite beautiful. It casts everyone in the same sort of pleasantly lurid blurriness. This could be surveillance camera footage of a particularly ugly night between a mother, a father, a daughter and a dismembered human head. There’s no sense of elevation here. The viewer is bearing witness to the ugliness of human desire without limitations on human power. Hubris. Anger. Frustration. Decapitation. It’s all there. And it’s all so very, very cheap. No need to exaggerate it. No need to blow it out of proportion to make it look epic. Humanity can be very, very ugly.
The Village Playhouse’s production of Salomé runs through Feb. 21st via Zoom. For more information, visit The Village Playhouse online.