by Oscar Wilde

A Tragedy in One Act

Salomé - Wilde's answer to Hamlet. But here, instead of a suspicious son taking revenge on the uncle who killed his father to usurp kingdom and wife, we have a young girl, innocent and pure. Whereas Claudius is confident to sit as king, having killed his brother in secret, Herod is wracked with guilt and fear of retribution, since everybody knows he supplanted the real king - well, Herod is "stronger than he was" - by leaving him to languish in jail for twelve years. "At the end of the twelve years he had to be strangled". Instead of his brother, that same jail now holds a wild man, dangerous and mad, who lived in the desert talking in riddles, although "it may be an omen".

Standing between the tyrannical tetrarch and the former beauty that is his wife, who is now fading in form and influence, stands Salomé, beautiful and young, with the unlimited influence only the young have. Escaping from the party to the sweeter air of the balcony, fleeing the tetrarch who "looks at her all the while under his shaking eyelids", she encounters the young Syrian captain of the guard, who swoons at her sight, as well as the Prophet Iokanaan, suffering in the cistern. Fascinated by his cryptic words, his intense pale beauty, she falls immediately and instantly in love, or is it lust. But Iokanaan is the one person who finds the strength to deny her her wish, the kiss she demands.

When the tetrarch appears to drag her back to the banquet, she discovers for the first time what she can make others do, and what she wants them to do for her, in the most gruesome of ways. The tetrarch, impotent in the face of higher powers he cannot but needs to control, must try and keep his tenuous hold on the world around him. His wife, whose power and influence slips away with each moment of her life, watches helplessly from the sidelines while Iokanaan spouts vehement abuse aimed directly at her and her immoral ways: well it would be, if only he could understand what he is saying.

As each is denied their wish, their control of their desires and their worlds, the court, prisoners and all, fall deeper into desperate vicious manipulation of each other, leaving blood and death and dismemberment littering the stage, and all in under half the time of Shakespeare's effort.

by Alex Kalderimis