Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Review: (Toronto) Salome's Clothes (SummerWorks)

Beautiful, but is the emperor naked?
by Jason Booker

Salome's Clothes often captures the reality of a moment, whether it's a mother-daughter argument over going to the mall or the disappointed disillusionment of a woman in a nursing home. Sadly though, the blending of realistic scenes confuses as the years of mundane activities become blurred in a montage of relationships and subtexts that are never outright addressed. 

Queen (Karen Robinson) cares deeply for her two teenage daughters. As a single mother, she works to the bone and comforts when she can. However, working night shifts and cobbling together resources for the family, Queen cannot always be present. Introduce an unseen boyfriend, some shady dealings, jealousy and misplaced trust and Queen's world starts slipping away before she can grasp what goes on. As her family disintegrates, time speeds up and scenes become more fractured until the final beautifully wrought sequence. However, that last line clearly carries much meaning but nothing explicit enough on which to hang one's hat. 

Messages in Donna-Michelle St. Bernard's play often get buried by Clare Preuss's beautifully simple staging, instead of being spoken of directly. Yes, part of the point of the play is how much Queen as a provider misses as a mother - but the events and people and tragedies that she ignores (wilfully or not) are never clearly stated. Without explanations, that leaves the audience to assume, and those assumptions often lead to cliché conclusions and pat responses. Maybe the untold story is really more intriguing than the one depicted, but who can know when the audience is only shown the moments that go over Queen's head.

As the daughters, Neema Bickersteth (Salome) and Virgilia Griffith (Nialah) capture the rhythms of young girls; sombre or bubbly, they always carry at the back of their minds the weight of their family's issues while attempting to enjoy the moment. And, as per usual, Robinson carries the play. She cries, she hollers, she is your mother, with a final sequence (while too long and unfocused) that becomes a tour de force.

Transitions between scenes using a simple but ominous children's rhyme speed along and add a different tone to the piece, alluding to more than the dialogue provides. 

Kudos as well to the bright costuming of Andrea Schregenberger and Michelle Ramsay's lighting for creating a crisp, clean and colourful air of childhood appropriate for the piece.

Salome's Clothes could be about regrets or could be about sacrifices made for the moment and the money. It could be about permission and maturity. Instead, it is about loss and confusion - a sadly missed opportunity.

Salome's Clothes is at SummerWorks

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