SALOME – Stunning! Powerful! WHAT THE BUTLER SAW – Deliciously raucous! Subversive!

by Buzzin' Lee Hartgrave on September 8, 2006


The Oscar Wilde play operates on many levels for the audience. It’s a treat to see a play that hasn’t been dragged out every six months.And this production leaves no doubt that Wilde was a great, witty writer. Basically the story is about King Herod and the decadence in royal courts at the time. Wilde wrote “Salome” while in France and it had a few performances in that country, but was banned in England for a time.

Herod lusts after his wife’s daughter in the play. His wife was actually Herod’s Brother’s wife. Salome is the product of that earlier marriage. The Queens daughter “Salome” is attracted to Iokanaan (Wilde’s name for John The Baptist). Salome, being pouty and Lolita like, tries to get some response from the imprisoned Prophet, but he resists. She finds his body like shining Ivory and she is fascinated with his lips. Rebuffed – or in this day and age they would call is “Pissed” – Salome seems intent on getting what she wants ‘dead or alive’.

Herod begs ‘Salome’ to dance for him with his Queen sitting in the Throne beside him seething. Salome at first says no. Herod offers her everything – even half of his Kingdom. “What do you want”…he pleads. “Name it and it shall be yours.” Finally, she agrees to dance for him. The dance was reminiscent of the jerky style that made Isadora Duncan famous. After the dance, Herod was panting — so he asks Salome what she would like. “I want the head of the Prophet on a Silver Platter.” – she says. Herod at first is horrified. This is not what he expected. He pleads with her that it will bring bad luck to this Palace. Salome demands and teases and finally Herod gives in. You may be interested in knowing, that we are spared the Seven Veils.

So John the Baptist is beheaded – and the head is given to the selfish princess. She kisses it – licks his beheaded face. Herod having seen enough and afraid of what might come next – orders her killed. “Kill that woman” – he orders.

Also remarkable about this play is the lighting and the sound effects. No swords are visible, but you hear the sound of them being pulled from their sheath. There is not a real full moon, but the lighting director has made one that is very haunting. The set is sparse… just a couple of Royal looking chairs. The most startling thing in the show is the cage that hold’s Iokanaan’s shimmering body. In the play he is under the ground. And he still is under ground – but they bring the cage high up in the air so that we can marvel at his acting and suffering.

And that is why it is so spectacular. It is the actors, the production and the direction that peel off all the levels of this physiological drama.
Mark Anderson Phillips (Iokanaan) has the most demanding role. He must stand or kneel in his cage without moving for periods of twenty minutes. How he does it without flinching is a work of silent fury. We know what he is thinking by looking at his body. So, even if he doesn’t have that many lines he emerges as the best Actor in this production. It’s a powerful performance! Ron Campbell as Herod is superb. His Queen (Julia Brothers) has little to say – but just her presence on the stage is mesmerizing. You can almost see the steam rising from her head when Salome goes against her wishes and dances for Herod. Miranda Calderon gives a fresh and wicked update to the minx ‘ Salome’.

Fabulous Costumes by Holly Chou, Wonderful lighting by Christopher Studley, Super sound by Jake Rodriquez. The direction by Mark Jackson made this play emotionally rigorous! At The Aurora Theater in Berkeley.

RATING: FOUR GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!!!! (The Lee Hartgrave FAME AWARD goes to Mark Anderson Phillips for Best Actor.)


FUN,FUN,FUN AT RHINO (photo: Kent Taylor.)

NON-STOP FUN! That is what this Joe Orton play is. The plot takes place in a madhouse. Everyone on the stage, even the one’s who are supposed to not be mad – end up qualifying for incarceration.

The reason that this production of “What The Butler Saw” is so successful is due to the skilled comic timing of the actors who have to remember which door to run thru as you’re half-naked. The six performers are slick and maniacally funny. Is this type casting or what?

The Mad House is run by very horny people, who seemingly will have sex with anything that moves – even if that means changing their gender preferences. Hey, I loved it. This is my kind of ‘Mad House’. Dramatic lunatics are always so much fun.

It all starts out innocently enough. A Doctor is looking for a new secretary. What she doesn’t know is that she may have a few more duties to perform than she thinks. And the Doc has the toys.

Joe Orton is just a fantastic, brilliant writer. What a shame that he had to die so young. Who knows what great plays he could have given us if he had lived.

You really will want to see “Butler”. It’s so funny and charming with laugh-a-minute dialogue that is superbly executed. Its the Devil Wears Prada on steroids. John Fishcr has squeezed out so much hilarity that you’re weak from laughing. Thanks Mr. Fisher for the great summer treat.

The wonderful actors of this totally insane comedy are Matt Weiner, Sage Howard, Trish Tillman, Donovan, David Bicha and Ryan Oden (who looks really super as the English Detective.) Lara Rempel’s costumes are just so 1967

RATING: FOUR GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!!! At Theatre Rhino. More info:


On the Keith Olberman show the other night he had as a guest the critic for the Village Voice, Michael Musto. They were talking about TomCats baby who is on the cover of Vanity Fair with Daddy and Mommie. Olberman said: “Is that a doll or what? She looks like she’s about 14. I liked her better before I saw her.” Musto replied. “So did I…and I’m talking about Tom.”

The Photo of Lee Hartgrave Boy Reporter is by Jim Ferreira – Film Noir & Hollywood Glamour.


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Buzzin’ Lee Hartgrave

Buzzin’ Lee Hartgrave is a longtime theater critic in the San Francisco Bay Area. His reviews appear each Friday in Beyond Chron.

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