SALOMANIA another winner at Aurora Theatre

(Left) Maud Allan (Madeline H.D. Brown*) performs a scandalous dance. (Right) Noel Pemberton-Billing (front, Mark Anderson Phillips*) gives his closing argument to the court and Judge Darling (back, Kevin Clarke) (Above) Soldiers in the trenches (clockwise from center, Kevin Clarke, Anthony Nemirovsky*, Marilee Talkington*, Alex Moggridge*, and Mark Anderson Phillips*) take a break from combat and listen to a bird sing in the World Premiere of Salomania

SALOMANIA: Drama/Comedy. Written and Directed by Mark Jackson. Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison St., Berkeley. (510) 843-4822 or at

June 15 - July 22, 2012 : EXTENDED now through July 29 (added performances: July 26, 8pm, July 27, 8pm, July 28, 8pm, July 29, 2pm)

SALOMANIA another winner at Aurora Theatre

When Mark Jackson’s name appears as the director of a theatrical piece expectations are high. When his name appears as writer and director the expectations are doubled and when he teams up with the Aurora Theatre Company the expectations are tripled. On opening night of his World Premiere Salomania all those expectations were met earning a spontaneous standing ovation.

Mark Jackson is no stranger to local audiences and to the Aurora Stage in particular having directed their Metamorphosis, Salome, Miss Julie earning accolades for each. While doing research for his directorial stint with Oscar Wilde’s Salome he came across the story of Maude Allan a former San Franciscan who became famous in Europe performing the “Dance of he Seven Veils” based on the play Salome. When she brought her performance to London prior to World War I, she also played the role of Salome in private performances of Oscar Wilde’s play that was banned from public performances.

In 1918 rabid arch conservative and publisher of the political journal “Vigilante” printed “The Cult of the Clitoris” accusing Maude of being a lesbian, sadist and German sympathizer. It was a ploy to push Maude into filing a slander suit thus giving Billing and cohort Harold Spencer the opportunity to disclose the contents of a fictitious book claiming that 47,000 highly placed British perverts were being blackmailed to aid Germany and thus prolonging the War. Maude took the bait and heeding bad advice filed in criminal rather than civil court allowing the trial to be heard in the Old Bailey. The play centers on this “trial of the century” and its notoriety causing a circus atmosphere in the court. Jackson used actual transcripts from this trial as the basis for Salomania.

Being a consummate leading edge playwright Jackson’s non-linear construction with an astute eye for the dramatic is also a form of agitprop suggesting the “media sensationalism, gay bashing and wartime hysteria” still exist. He uses six superb actors to play 22 roles and they do so with individual believability as a perfect ensemble.

With the exception of Madeline H. D. Brown in the lead role, all the actors initially appear as British soldiers in trenches in France. With an initial scene of the entrenched soldiers in banal conversation arguing the quality of various brands of chocolate, a newspaper arrives (actually dropped from the ceiling) with news of the trial that has replaced war news. The production uses slides projected on elevated screens to depict he time and place of most scenes.

As the scenes shift back and forth to trenches and to various venues in London, the cast adroitly slip on various bits of costume and become what they are intended to be without a hitch. Before the trial begins, and throughout the evening, we are treated to portions of Salome’s dance as she often moves between other characters in other scenes always indicating the primary role of the protagonist. Later when the the libel suit is overshadowed by the machinations of Billing and Spencer, Jackson cleverly continues this conceit.

As the trial progresses, and Maude’s words, past deeds and family background are brutalized we learn that her true last name is Durrant and her brother was hanged in San Quentin for the slaying of two young girls with the suggestion that such heinous behavior might be genetic. There is very little humor in the play and all of that revolves around the male animal’s lack of knowledge about female anatomy, specifically the clitoris and the word “orgasm.”

Although Madeline Brown is superb in the role of Salome and she wears the marvelous costumes designer Callie Floor has matched from old photographs, she must share the brilliant acting of every member of the cast. The intensity of Mark Anderson Phillips when in the role of Pemberton-Billing is so real as to have members of the audience push back into their seats in the intimate Aurora Theatre. You may wish to clap when Anthony Nemirovsky as the loud-mouth Spencer is unmasked as a pathologic liar. Kevin Clarke steals more than one scene with his fey depiction of a Judge in the Old Bailey. Alex Moggridge handles the compassionate role of a sensitive soldier and also as Maude’s defense attorney with real class. Liam Vincent shines in the role of the much maligned and oft blackmailed Lord Alfred Douglas.

Nina Ball’s set with a moveable platform gently rotated by two members of the cast is utilized to great advantage for Jackson’s physical directing style that uses interval quiet reflective periods adding a touch of poetry to the cruel proceedings. Once again Aurora’s production values wrap up the evening with light design by Heather Basarab and sound design by Matt Stines. The total staging of the penultimate scene is stunning.

Running time is 2 hours and 25 minutes including an intermission. Order your tickets now for this top-notch production that ends Aurora’s 20th season.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of