AISLE SAY San Francisco


Written and Directed by Mark Jackson
Presented by Aurora Theatre Company
Aurora Theatre
2081 Addison St., Berkeley, CA / (510) 843-4822

Reviewed by Judy Richter

After directing Oscar Wilde's "Salome" for Aurora Theatre Company in 2006, Mark Jackson has returned to Aurora to stage the world premiere of his "Salomania." This two-act play was reportedly inspired by Jackson's research for "Salome." In the process, he learned that a former San Francisco resident, Maud Allan, had become internationally known for her version of Salome's dance in the early 1900s.

When Noel Pemberton-Billing, a member of the British Parliament, said in his magazine that she and others were listed in a black book of German sympathizers during World War I, she sued him for criminal libel. Jackson saw parallels between her experience and that of Wilde, who had sued the father of his purported male lover for libel. Jackson sets his play in 1918 as the war was nearing its end. The action takes place in England and France, the latter mostly in the war zone.

Except for Madeline H.D. Brown, who plays Maud, the play's seven actors portray a variety of characters ranging from English soldiers to principals in Maud's trial and Oscar Wilde himself (even though he had been dead for 18 years).

Pemberton-Billing (Mark Anderson Phillips) was a fervid right-winger who believed in the existence of a black book listing thousands of English citizens whom the Germans were blackmailing, presumably for homosexuality. (One can't help being reminded of Wisconsin Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who conducted a witch hunt against purported communists in government and entertainment in the 1950s.)

Maud sued the MP for writing in his magazine that she was involved in "the cult of the clitoris," presumably an allusion to lesbianism. At the time, "clitoris" was not a widely known term. The article alleged that only medical professionals and perverts knew its meaning. Indeed, Judge Darling (Kevin Clarke), who presided over Pemberton-Billing's trial, assumed that it was some Greek fellow.

Besides Brown, Clark and Phillips, the cast includes Alex Moggridge, Anthony Nemirovsky , Marilee Talkington and Liam Vincent. All clearly delineate their various characters thanks to their own abilities as well as quick changes of costumes designed by Callie Floor .However, their accents are sometimes difficult to understand, even in Aurora's intimate setting. Moreover, Jackson needs to tone down Phillips, who becomes so histrionic and loud during some of the trial scenes that he's difficult to understand.

Nina Ball's set, which resembles a wartime trench and which is lit by Heather Basarab, easily accommodates different settings. The sound is by Matt Stines while the somewhat minimalist choreography is by Chris Black.

Although Jackson weaves a number of relevant themes into the play, it's sometimes too densely packed. Some judicious trimming seems in order, especially in the second act, when I found myself looking at my watch. I also noticed that a few people left during intermission. Still, "Salome" has the makings of an intriguing drama.

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