Closing Aurora's 20th season is the World Premiere of SALOMANIA, Aurora Theatre Company Artistic Director Tom Ross's first new play commission for the company, written and directed by award-winning Bay Area auteur Mark Jackson (Metamorphosis, Salome, Miss Julie). Workshopped and developed at Aurora in 2010, SALOMANIA features Madeline H.D. Brown (Metamorphosis), Mark Anderson Phillips (Small Tragedy), Alex Moggridge (Betrayed), Liam Vincent (California Shakespeare Theater), Anthony Nemirovsky (Awake and Sing!), Marilee Talkington (Crowded Fire), and Kevin Clarke (Shotgun Players). SALOMANIA plays tonight, June 15 through July 22 at the Aurora Theatre in Berkeley.
SALOMANIA is a local story and an international story. It's about any place that has faced or is experiencing significant social, technological, material, and moral change. It's also a tragedy about the death of good sense. While directing Oscar Wilde's fascinating and sensual play Salome at Aurora in 2006, Mark Jackson discovered the extraordinary story of dancer Maud Allan, a San Francisco native who took Europe by storm in the early 1900's with her version of the "Dance of the Seven Veils," which she called "The Vision of Salomé." She became notoriously known as "The Salomé Dancer" and was unexpectedly fraught with a lawsuit that destroyed her career. Whereas Salome was Oscar Wilde's wild take on the infamous Biblical temptress, her unrequited love of the prophet Jokanaan, and her desperate dance, SALOMANIA uses Allan's story as a framework to explore themes of media sensationalism, freedom of expression, and wartime hysteria, themes as relevant today as they were a century ago.
In 1895, Maud Durrant left San Francisco to study music in Germany. Soon after, her brother killed two girls in a church on Bartlett and 22nd Street in the Mission District; the murder was instantly dubbed a "crime of the century." Maud's ambitious mother advised her to change her name and not come home. Going by Maud Allan, she went on to a career not in music but dance. In 1906, Allan saw Oscar Wilde's play Salome, which is famous for its "Dance of the Seven Veils." Known in particular for her signature dance, "The Vision of Salomé," Maud became a megastar and toured the world. By 1918, though she remained a known celebrity and social personality, her career was on the wane. She agreed to play the title role in a private performance of Oscar Wilde's banned Salome, and was accused by British M.P. Noel Pemberton-Billing of being a lesbian, a sadist, and a German sympathizer. Allan sued Billing for libel, exactly what he hoped she would do. Billing then used the trial as a platform to promote his absurd conspiracy theory that 47,000 British citizens were being held under the thumb of homosexual German agents bent on undermining Great Britain's strength of will, and that these traitors' names were collected in a secret black book held by a German prince in Albania. The trial took over the front pages from WWI itself and created a major, international scandal. Billing was eventually acquitted. Within a few months, WWI ended and Maud Allan slipped into obscurity. Exhausted by a relentless onslaught of economic and social change brought about by an overwhelming war, Great Britain in 1918 stood precariously on The Edge of a national meltdown. Maud Allan's libel case provided a welcomed, deliciously salacious diversion that threw politics, art, celebrity, nationalism, the battle of the sexes, and freedom of expression together into one spectacular extravaganza.
According to playwright and director Mark Jackson, "Given the immediaCy Granted to us by today's technologies, some say that theater has been made irrelevant. I don't agree. And it strikes me that one of the ways in which theater remains invaluable is, ironically, its inherent ability to dig into the past in order to help us understand the present and find a better way to our future. So, although SALOMANIA's subject is historical and its medium ancient, the play is, to my mind, entirely about our present moment.
"Though much has changed since 1918, wars are still fought and won by exceedingly questionable means, and spoken of and documented in language that conceals as much, if not more, than it reveals. Sensationalism is still a major escapist drug of choice in our society, with celebrity scandals perpetually stealing the headlines from far more important matters. And despite how far civil rights have come, those who remain different from the majority of the population still struggle not to be the scapegoat for the fears of that majority.
"WWI is one of the great, terrible moments of history; it changed the world forever. It also changed the language of war and war reportage. Likewise, important social issues raised during Maud Allan's trial, such as media sensationalism, freedom of expression, gender equality, gay rights, and hysteria in the face of change, remain points of great struggle for us nearly a century on."
Award-winning director, performer, and playwright Mark Jackson returns to Aurora Theatre Company, where he helmed the company's lauded productions of Metamorphosis, Miss Julie and Salome, to direct his original, commissioned piece for the company, SALOMANIA. Jackson most recently directed God's Plot at Shotgun Players; other directing credits include The Companion Piece at Z Space, Shakespeare's Macbeth, The Forest War, The Death of Meyerhold, and his adaptations of Schiller's Mary Stuart and Goethe's Faust Pt1, all performed at Shotgun Players. Additional productions include Yes, Yes to Moscow at Deutsches Theater Berlin (Germany) and the San Francisco International Arts Festival, his original play American $uicide at Encore Theatre Company, and Bertolt Brecht's Caucasian Chalk Circle (American Conservatory Theater MFA Program). The Death of Meyerhold garnered a Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Original Script in 2003, which Jackson also received in 2002 for his original one-man show I Am Hamlet. He was the founding Artistic Director of Art Street Theatre (called "San Francisco's Best Experimental Theatre Company" by SF Weekly), for which he wrote and directed a number of plays, was a 2005 German Chancellor Fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, and a 2003 playwright in residence at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program. In 2007, Jackson was named the Bay Area's "Best Theatrical Auteur" by SF Weekly.
Madeline H.D. Brown returns to Aurora Theatre Company as Maud Allan in SALOMANIA; she appeared last season in the company's hit production of Metamorphosis. Additional credits include productions at Cutting Ball Theater (Tontlawald), SF Playhouse (Wirehead, The Apotheosis of Pig Husbandry, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest), Shotgun Players (Threepenny Opera), Brava Theater, and Mugwumpin/Just Theatre. Mark Anderson Phillips returns to Aurora Theatre Company as Noel Pemberton-Billing in SALOMANIA; he previously appeared in the company's West Coast Premiere of Craig Lucas's Small Tragedy. Additional credits include productions at TheatreWorks, Center REPertory Company, Magic Theatre, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, San Jose Repertory Theatre, California Shakespeare Theater, and Marin Theatre Company, among others. Also returning is Alex Moggridge as Ellis William Hume-Williams; he last appeared at Aurora Theatre Company in the West Coast Premiere of Betrayed and in the company's production of The Entertainer. Additional credits include productions at American Conservatory Theater, Magic Theatre, SF Playhouse, SF Shakespeare Festival, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, and San Jose Repertory Theatre, among others.
Liam Vincent makes his Aurora Theatre Company debut in SALOMANIA as Lord AlFred Douglas.
Additional credits include productions at California Shakespeare Theater, American Conservatory Theater, TheatreWorks, Magic Theatre, SF Playhouse, and Center REPertory Company, among others. Anthony Nemirovsky returns to Aurora Theatre Company as The Honorable Justice Wills; he most recently appeared in the company's productions of Awake and Sing! and The Devil's Disciple. Additional credits include The Jewbird and The Magic Barrel at Traveling Jewish Theatre, More Stories by Tobias Wolff at Word for Word, and The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby at California Shakespeare Theater.
Rounding out the ensemble, and making their Aurora debuts in SALOMANIA, are Marilee Talkington as Margot Asquith and Kevin Clarke as Oscar Wilde. Talkington's credits include productions at Crowded Fire Theater, American Conservatory Theater, and Center REPertory Company; she appeared Off Broadway in the World Premiere of Justin Quinn Pelegano's The Last Day and in A.R. Gurney's The Middle Ages. Clarke's credits include productions at Shotgun Players, Theater Rhinoceros, and Art Street Theater.
Following SALOMANIA, Aurora Theatre Company opens its 21st season in August with the coveted Bay Area Premiere of Kristoffer Diaz's Pulitzer-nominated powerslam of a play THE ELABORATE ENTRANCE OF CHAD DEITY, directed by Jon Tracy. Aurora Theatre Company founding Artistic Director Barbara Oliver returns to the company in November to direct WILDER TIMES, a collection of short plays by iconic American playwright and novelist Thornton Wilder, followed by the World Premiere of Anthony Clarvoe's OUR PRACTICAL HEAVEN in January, directed by Allen McKelvey. Award-winning Bay Area auteur Mark Jackson returns to Aurora Theatre Company in April to put his spin on Alistair Beaton's new translation of Max Frisch's West End hit THE ARSONISTS. The season concludes in June with the Bay Area Premiere of Neil LaBute's searing dark comedy THIS IS HOW IT GOES, directed by Aurora Theatre Company Artistic Director Tom Ross.
Aurora Theatre Company was nominated for 33 Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Awards for 2011.
For tickets ($30-55) and information the public can call (510) 843-4822 or visit auroratheatre.org. Contains mature subject matter.
Photo Credit: David Allen.
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