Theater Reviews: Salome

SALOMÉ When presented with Aubrey Beardsley's Whistler-inspired illustrations for the first English edition of Salomé, Oscar Wilde famously complained that Beardsley's drawings were "too Japanese" for a work the playwright considered to be Byzantine. The truth is that Wilde's lurid, lyrical homage to French symbolism is sheer Victorian camp — a flamboyantly baroque finale to English aestheticism on the eve of its suppression by Wilde's conviction for sodomy in 1895. So it is no surprise that camp emerges as the salient keynote to director Aramazd Stepanian's wryly risible if uneven staging of a play generally considered unstageable. Its dramatic centerpiece, of course, is the biblically inspired legend of John the Baptist's beheading, which Wilde presents as the grisly denouement to a tragic chain of frustrated desire: Imprisoned holy man John — here called Iokanaan (played by beefcake Michael Joseph) — spurns the advances of petulant court femme fatale Salomé (the exotically androgynous Laura Cotenescu, also credited with the show's inventive costumes), who disdains the incestuous lust of her stepfather, Herod the Tetrarch (a hyperkinetic Kevin Vavasseur), who unwisely ignores the simmering jealousy of his vengeful queen, Herodias (the fine Jacqueline Axton). The production's prurient high point comes in Salomé's storied "dance of the seven veils," performed by Cotenescu (in collaboration with co-choreographer Rico Mejia) in steamy, showstopping, Jumbo's-worthy fashion — which makes the scene in which Iokanaan actually loses his head seem an unnecessarily literal and oddly redundant anticlimax. Luna Playhouse, 3706 San Fernando Road, Glendale; Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Jan. 23. (818) 500-7200, (Bill Raden)

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