I am paternally and not just paternally proud of my spawn, Tristan, for directing Oscar Wilde's Salome in so timely a time and in such an unlikely likely place. Salome takes place in the time of King Herod when opulence, decadence and sentimentality had reached a self-evident reality that was threatened by nothing except the voice of a lunatic named John the Baptist. Princess Salome, a capricious young object of desire, throws a hissy fit when the Baptist rejects her sexual advances. She demands of her lust-gorged stepfather, Herod, that he bring her John's head in exchange for her sensual favors. Herod isn't too keen on the deal, because the Baptist's prophecies spook him, and he's hedging his bets just in case the prophet might have something there. There is no overt reason for Herod to get so overwrought; after all, he's married to the "whore of Babylon" herself, Salome's mother, who is a wee bit jealous of her daughter but who's got plenty party gal left in her to fill the kingdom with fun; plus he's an omnipotent ruler and what's one head more or less? Still, Herod has enough of the heebie-jeebies in him to use all the poetry he can muster to convince the petulant princess to give up her demand. And here comes the timeliness: Herod's poetry is a gorgeous, baroque list of all the splendors of his kingdom that could be Salome's if she just got the Baptist's head out of hers. By contrast, John's poetry consists of freakishly simple curses and threats howled relentlessly from the depths of a clear vision of the coming of Christ, son of an ass-kicking God sick of people having too much fun. The contest between these two poetries, Herod's palace verse and John's desert-caked imprecations, is going on as we speak. Our people are still gorged with the decadence of the lovely '90s of the last millennium while the stark poetry of war booms over the nation. If you think that's a stretch, remember that every major historical shift makes one poetry obsolete and another timely, and it's usually over-refined poetry that gets the boot from a new directness. My offspring's direction of Salome makes this rift beautifully clear, and the fact that the play's been revived in New Orleans around Mardi Gras makes it deliciously right. Our decadence has always been filled with mystery and terror, no matter how MTV might portray it, and the tension between sensuality and religion is our true mover. Come Ash Wednesday, you'll be in great need of this play and, happily, it will run the weekend after Mardi Gras.
Madame Palmetto's Amusement Company presents Oscar Wilde's Salome, directed by Tristan Codrescu, at 8 p.m. March 6 - 9 at the UNO Downtown Theater/Scottish-Rite Temple, 621 Carondelet St. For more info, contact 945-4285 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.