The story of Salome is anything but simple. It’s biblical and apocryphal, and great writers like Gustave Flaubert and Oscar Wilde have tried to pin it down into a story of sex or scandal or both. Playwright Brooke Silva takes this New Testament story and makes it into something modern and strange in “Luna Noctiluca,” part of San Francisco Fringe Festival, a two-week festival featuring 36 different theater companies.
The productions of the Fringe Festival are small, hastily directed and often very far from the beaten path in theater. With a cast of fewer than 10 and a very unusual treatment of the story of Salome, “Luna Noctiluca” fits right in.
A character called simply “A Woman” by the program provides much of the narration; however, her monologue is only loosely related to the actual text of the play. Lindsey Martin injects modernism into the show with her portrayal.
Her delivery is quick and controlled; she is the most professional-seeming actor in the cast. She reminisces about stripping, prostitution and the loss of virginity, thereby underscoring the eroticism of Salome’s story.
Salome, portrayed by Caitlin Lushington, is an ingenue terrible, calling for the head of John the Baptist as payment for her dance of the seven veils. Lushington is lithe and spritely, but the dance itself is awkward and poorly costumed. The audience is left with the feeling that Herod has overpaid for his entertainment.
When not dancing, Lushington crackles like a spitfire in the role and is the picture of headstrong young lust. The ill-fated prophet (called by his Greek name, Jokanaan) is played by John Holst. Holst brings a perfect physicality to the man who would lose his head over the daughter of Herodias.
The queen herself is brought to haughty life on the stage by Chelsea Wellott, who plays her regally but with a sluttish and murderous edge. As her opposite, Cyle Conley pales as a forgettable Herod whose appeal rests largely in his accurate depiction of the male gaze.
The supporting cast is very green and provides a machinery to move the plot forward without individual standout performances.
The script emphasizes the sexuality and gender parity implied in the original story. The narrator is not physically present in the events affecting Salome but seems to embody her future self. Her stories push the envelope, using modern vulgar terms for anatomy and the acts in which they are employed.
By contrast, the players enacting the events in Judea use the 19th-century approximation of the ancient language the people in the real events would have spoken. Inexplicably, the text veers into French in moments of heated emotion. Occasionally, Salome and the female narrator speak over one another in two languages.
The result of all this is a Salome that is dreamlike, disjointed and utterly out of its time. The first, 19th and 20th centuries all confront one another in a layered examination of one of the oldest tales of the wickedness of womankind.
“Luna Noctiluca” is a play born of discord and dichotomy, deviance and dimorphism. This treatment is not so much a fresh take on a classic as it is a remix; an unanticipated dubstep movement played in the middle of the same old song. In fact, in the middle of Salome’s dance of the seven veils, actual dubstep was played. That the actors cannot entirely pull it off is not a surprise given the hurdle of the text’s incomprehensible choice.
“Luna Noctiluca” is a little sexy, a little different and absolutely a play from the fringe. Offered at a very low ticket price and runtime of exactly one hour, it succeeded as a curiosity and an amusement if nothing else.