The title character in Christopher Adams-Cohen's unsatisfying and over-indulgent drama Salome is a petulant rich kid who’s shrugged off the perks he was born to for seedy digs and wayward pleasures of the flesh. The self-adoring Salome (playwright Adams-Cohen) shares a squalid apartment with his sexy strapping lover, Indian Joe (Matthew Raich). He’s also screwing John (Doug Spearman), a guilt-ridden priest whose self-loathing is sparked by his insurgent passion for this snide younger man. As gloating love object, Salome relishes provoking John to do things he’d rather not, then humiliating the abject man for doing it. It’s one of a number of unappealing traits that distance you from this pivotal character, and hence from the play itself.
Enter Herodias (Jacqueline Wright), Salome’s wealthy mother, who wants her son to sign away shares in the family business in exchange for a monthly stipend. When he balks, she plants herself in the apartment, threatening to lodge there until he changes his mind. Soon she’s unable to resist Joe’s sullen machismo and the ass-revealing underwear he flits around in, and she too is bedding him. The already acrimonious relationship between mother and son elevates to a raging sexual rivalry.
Though billed as “spiritually” inspired by Oscar Wilde and his play of the same name, Adams-Cohen’s script feels more reminiscent of Noel Coward’s The Vortex, with its struggle between a dissipated society matron and her resentful, messed-up son. That theme, along with the contrast presented between the taciturn, working-class Joe and his spoiled housemate and rich, smirking mom, register as the most substantial elements of the play.
But the play's writer and its director, Patrick Kennelly, seem less interested in delving into these relevant dynamics than in serving up an avant-garde theatrical experience with plenty of raw sex and simmering violence. As Salome, Adams-Cohen preens and poses, otherwise furnishing little insight into his character, and making it impossible to care about this guy one way or the other except to react to his cruelty. None of the performers, even the usually riveting Wright, deliver what they’re capable of. (The exceptions are Rachel Rivera, who never speaks but is excellent as a strung-out partygoer who frequents the apartment, and Soren Royer McHugh, who fills the bill as her companion.)
The production values are notable, however. The venue is a basement with an industrial-like ceiling that underscores the sprawling grunge in John Iacovelli’s colorful scenic design, with its filmy curtains and covert corners. Whether or not you find Jonathan Snipes' music and sound overly intrusive, it’s definitely a player here. And Pablo Santiago-Brandwein’s light design punctuates the drama in all the right places.
Lunar River at the Basement at Mack Sennett Studios, 1215 Bates Ave., Silver Lake; through March 6. (800) 838-3006, brownpapertickets.com/event/2488224.