Saturday, July 7, 2012

Salomania, at the Aurora

(Kevin Clarke as Oscar Wilde and Madeline H.D. Brown as Maud Allan, who performs in his Salome, in the Aurora's production. Photo by David Allen.)

Something didn't feel quite right about this review, of Mark Jackson's world premiere at the Aurora. Maybe I had to work too hard to make the Arthur Miller parallel, and without enough  payoff. Maybe the guessing game conceit was silly. Maybe, as my editor suggested, I didn't furnish enough detail to put the reader in the audience's seat. Maybe I simply tried to do too much, which, ironically, is also my central criticism of the play.

Last night I was talking to a friend about Salomania, trying to compare it to Jackson's God's Plot, which was at Shotgun last winter. Both shows are long shots of communities rather than close-ups of individuals. Jackson paints pictures of entire societies and networks of relationships rather than penetrating psychological studies of one mind. But for some reason, I thought God's Plot was much more successful in that regard than Salomania was. Maybe it's that Salomania's society -- London in WWI, and to some extent all of England and even beyond -- was too unwieldy to encompass in a single drama, whereas God's Plot's -- a tiny town in colonial Virginia -- was just the right size. Another problem might have been the characters. Looking back at God's Plot, which I saw seven months ago, I still remember clearly each character, his/her virtues and vices, the journey each took over the course of the play. Salomania's characters, on the other hand, felt a little fuzzier in all of those respects. 

I'm not saying that a play needs to be the epitome of realism, with relatable, accessible characters and a clear narrative arc, for me to like it. But this play seemed to want to be realistic, at least in part, while also wanting to be perhaps too many other things.

I'm still unsatisfied with the way I expressed my thoughts about Salomania, both here and in my review. But even if my review of the show was mixed, in another way, Salomania was wholly worthwhile: It's important to see shows that challenge my critical vocabulary. Often, I already know what I'm going to write about a show when I'm walking out of a theater -- sometimes even before the show has ended. And if not then, ideas usually fall into place shortly after I begin writing. But once in a while, I still don't know what I'm going to write even as I'm already writing. I have no idea where these reviews will take me. Beginning is a struggle; no lead feels quite right. I settle on one approach almost arbitrarily, only because deadlines loom, and I remain dissatisfied throughout my writing. It's unpleasant, but it's also what makes criticism interesting and what gives me a chance to grow. If every review were easy, then I'd be a hack. I'd also probably be saying the same thing all the time.

So while this review is a little too big for its britches, it's also different. Perhaps the same could be said for Salomania.

Salomania has been extended through July 29; info here.

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