I’m a huge proponent of the arts, and a few years ago, I discovered LA Theatre Works, a company that records audio plays in front of a live audience. They’ve had many famous people work on their productions, including Susan Sullivan, James Marsters, Alfred Molina, Neil Patrick Harris, Jonathan Groff, and many, many others. The first performance I was lucky enough to see was Frost/Nixon, which was absolutely incredible and brought history I wasn’t alive to experience to life for me.
This year, I wasn’t expecting to go see any of their shows until June, when there will be a production of The Hound of the Baskervilles. However, I was very fortunate that my parents decided my birthday present for the year could come early. On the final day of recording for Oscar Wilde’s play Salomé, I had no hopes of going to the show, since college is expensive and I don’t have a lot of discretionary income. I was getting ready to head back to school when my parents shoved a piece of paper in my hands, then told me to hit the road so I wouldn’t be late. I looked at the paper and nearly burst into tears. My parents had purchased a front row seat to Salomé for me. They helped me finish packing my car, then wished me a happy birthday as I drove to UCLA.
Once I’d arrived and parked, I walked in to the James Bridges Theatre to wait for the doors to open for the production. I also chatted with the staff there while I waited and asked about what had happened, since Salomé was actually an inserted play in the place of another, which was supposed to star Hamish Linklater of The Crazy Ones. They explained what happened, and I told them that I hoped the original play would be performed at some point in the future. Those I talked to appreciated the sentiment, and said that they hoped for the same. At that point, the doors to the theatre opened, so I walked in and took my seat.
About half an hour after I’d taken my seat, the play and its cast were introduced, followed by the show. Salomé is a relatively short play, clocking in at about 65 minutes in length. As such, it had no intermission. The production was absolutely fantastic, and I found my shoulders shaking in laughter throughout the production. What blew me away in the performance, more than anything else, was the skill of Matthew Wolf and André Sogliuzzo. Between them, they played approximately 17 characters, each with a different voice. Had I not seen the men in front of me at their respective mics, I would have thought the cast was much larger than the six people it was. John Vickery and Rosalind Ayres were also wonderful as the king and queen, Salomé’s stepfather and mother. James Marsters was brilliant as Iokanaan (John the Baptist). The reverb and other effects added to his mic gave Iokanaan a lot of power and made the reactions of the king and queen seem much more realistic.
However, I cannot say enough about Kate Steele and her performance as the titular character, Salomé. She imbued Salomé with strength, femininity, and grace. I both adored and abhorred the character, as she’s really not the best person, but I appreciated how feminist the character is. She knows what she wants and does what is necessary to get it, though, to be fair, her wishes cause the death of another after the object of her affections turns her down flat. After that moment happens, Kate brought a very subtle hint of insanity to Salomé which was beautiful, yet horrifying, to watch. The moment felt entirely honest. The show ended on an honest and slightly sad note. I loved it. There is nothing like being so drawn into a show that the rest of the world melts away around you.
After the show, I met up with a dear friend of mine, and together, we waited to say hello to James, as he recognizes both of us from other events where we’ve met him. When he came out, he said hello to the couple of other fans who waited to see him, and then came over to say hi to us. I had a few questions for him regarding a school project of mine, and James was kind enough to offer me some awesome advice. Then, my friend and I headed back to our cars, only to realize that we were surrounded by the other actors from the show. I ended up meeting and talking to almost everyone in the cast. Every single cast member I spoke to was kind and talked to me about LA Theatre Works, the arts, and working in the entertainment industry. It was the perfect ending to my favorite birthday present to date.
In order to hear and experience the power of the spoken word and the performances of the actors in Salomé, I highly recommend that everyone purchase the radio play when it’s made available to the public. It’s truly that good, but so is every other play I’ve listened to from LA Theatre Works. They have a huge selection of plays that are available for purchase, so please check them out, as well as their other upcoming shows.