Theatre of the People’s latest double feature twofer is called “Ladies of Lust.” The Ladies are Oscar Wilde’s Salome and August Strindberg’s Miss Julie.
Company co-founder Hannah Moss directs “Salome.” The surprise of the production for me was just how funny “Salome” is. Yes, Suzie Zimmerman does dance sexily and she does gruesomely kiss the lips of the severed head of John the Baptist, but throughout she plays it as a sort of spoiled Lolita teen ager. John the Baptist himself is plenty fervent, but though he’s only a fuzzy outline behind a screen, he’s a vocal over the top testifier. Saturday afternoon’s Herod, Nick Maudlin was about as clueless a fearsome ruler as any of Mel Brook’s characters and his assistant Adam Bradley always had his tongue firmly in cheek. By the way, if you’ve ever wondered whether a medium sized set of actors can be harmoniously thematically costumed with a twelve pack of black trash bags and a dozen yards of red sash material, this is the show with the answers. There was some solid balance from Farrell Paules as Herod’s wife along with Chris Le Tendre as a Salome smitten soldier, but what I took from the play was the strongly focused comic elements.
The other half of Theatre of the People’s “Ladies of Lust” is Strindberg’s “Miss Julie.” Company co-founder David Nosko directs this grim little naturalistic trio piece. In 1888 Scandanavia the tension between the aristocratic Miss Julie and her father’s valet Jean was palpable for audiences. We can only try to imagine it as part of the story. The play is also a very demanding emotional roller coaster of theatre for the three actors. Amy Abelson was harsh voiced and hectoring as the alternately aristocratically domineering and timid Miss Julie in her mad descent from house to barn and dining room to kitchen. Saturday afternoon’s family valet Jean was played with nervously alternating courage and toadying fear by Eric VanGucht. The afternoon’s stolidly wise family cook was Patty Blanchfield. Frankly, it’s a tough piece to stage effectively. That it did work grippingly even in moments was a tribute to the effort.
Listen to an interview with directors David Nosko and Hannah Moss and actor Susie Zimmerman.