Theater Review

Salomé By Oscar Wilde; Adapted, translated and directed by Yuval Zamir; Simta July

Evil leaches through every arresting minute of Yuval Zamir’s engrossing Salomé. Even the setting, by Zamir and Uzi Amrani, not forgetting Maor Tzabar’s sleazy costumes, debases.
The Biblical story of Salome (Yoav Amir), her unwilling dance before Herod (Ronen Yifrach), her demand for the head of John the Baptist (Ezer Kalmovitz) to her mother Herodias’s (Na’ama Amit) purring approval is set beneath the pitiless glare of neon lights in a tawdry public bathhouse. Rather than a cistern, the Baptist is held in the sewers beneath the bath-tub.
The royal couple’s thrones are toilets.
The language of Salomé is Wilde at his most lushly extravagant, its sumptuous, sultry phrasing serving only to heighten the depravity, and Zamir’s translation serves it well.
Salome has been depicted as a vampire – the play endlessly compares her to the pale moon – a man-hating predator, a deliberate destroyer, but not here.
Zamir’s Salome is a genderconfused boy – brought up as a girl by his mother literally to save his life from Herod – who is revealed as masculine only when he strips after the dance. The malleability of gender drives this production no less than its political stance. To the strains of the US national anthem, Herod speaks of the favors that omnipotent “Caesar” heaps on him, the Baptist is clothed entirely in – and hides behind – prayer-shawls; one of them wraps his severed head. Fear and uncertainty rule. The inference is that we here are deliberately marching towards the cliff edge.
The eight-member cast is uniformly excellent.
Onstage the entire time, even with little to say, Zohar Sabag and Eyal Kentov as soldiers and Ruti Assrassayi as the page never for an instant lose focus. They are there, they watch, they respond. Avi Advi’s fatuous Syrian Captain properly evokes pity, but not compassion.
As Salome, Yoav Amir presents a child betrayed, brought up without a moral compass, whom events utterly derange – and he does it very well. Na’ama Amit’s opportunistic, always-watchful Herodias adds tension, and to cap all, Ronen Yifrach’s utterly chilling Herod is a suave stonekiller for whom there’s no such thing as a moral universe.
This is not an easy play to watch but very well worth the effort.