Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Women's Voices Theater Festival
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's review of Alice in Wonderland

Nadine Malouf (foreground) and Olwen Fouéré
The purpose of the Women's Voices Theater Festival, now underway in Washington, is not only to showcase the writing of female playwrights but also to reveal the voices of women who have been silenced, or at least marginalized. Salomé, the new work by Yaël Farber at the Shakespeare Theatre Company's Lansburgh Theatre, is exactly what the festival was designed to do.

Most of what people know about Salomé, stepdaughter of Herod Antipas, comes from Oscar Wilde's play and Richard Strauss's operatic adaptation; she is not even named in the gospels. She is usually considered a vengeful woman who lusts for the imprisoned John the Baptist and, after he scorns her, takes her revenge by demanding the prophet's head on a platter. Farber reframes the issue: what if Salomé's motive was not sexual or even personal, but political?

Working from the works of Roman historians and ancient sources in the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions, Farber and her company have created a thought-provoking dramatic work that raises uncomfortable questions about colonialism, occupation, privilege, and who controls the historical narrative.

Salomé (Nadine Malouf) presents her experiences as they happen, while her older self—the Nameless Woman (Olwen Fouéré)—offers the perspective of distance. Farber's feat of storytelling, created collaboratively (in several languages) with her cast members, depicts Judea in the first century C.E. as ripe for an uprising against the Roman occupiers. Herod (Ismael Kanater) and the priests of the Temple have to placate the Roman overseer Pontius Pilate (T. Ryder Smith). Meanwhile, the leaders ignore the needs of the Judean population, allowing the agitator Iokanaan, or John the Baptist (Ramzi Choukair), to preach about freedom and release in this world as well as the next. The authorities don't want to create a martyr, so they are determined to keep Iokanaan alive, if isolated.

In Farber's vision, Salomé is fascinated by the sound of Iokanaan's praying in a foreign language (Choukair performs his role in Arabic, with Fouéré providing unobtrusive translation) and forces his prison guards to allow her to visit him. Their interaction is built on mutual respect rather than manipulation or seduction as a weapon.

The two lead women dominate the stage throughout the 90-minute performance and Choukair is a magnetic presence. All the members of the company, including singers Lubana Al Quntar and Tamar Ilana, bring utter commitment to the work, immersing themselves deeply in both the words and the ideas that remain unspoken.

The production also looks beautiful, with Susan Hilferty's simple yet all-encompassing scenic design and evocative costumes and Donald Holder's lighting design, which includes hand-held follow spots.

Shakespeare Theatre Company
October 6th - November 8th
Adapted and directed by Yaël Farber
Caiaphas: Yuval Boim
Iokanaan (John the Baptist): Ramzi Choukair
Nameless Woman: Olwen Fouéré
Annas: Jeff Hayenga
Bar Giora: Shahar Isaac
Herod: Ismael Kanater
Salomé: Nadine Malouf
Yeshua the Madman: Richard Saudek
Pontius Pilate: T. Ryder Smith
Abaddon: Elan Zafir
Singers: Lubana Al Quntar, Tamar Ilana
Harman Center for the Arts, Lansburgh Theatre
450 7th St. N.W.
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-547-1122 or 877-487-8849 or

Photo: Scott Suchman

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