St. Ann’s Warehouse in DUMBO is quickly
gaining a reputation as the place to go for celebrities looking
to explore their avant-garde side.
On Tuesday night, a reading of Oscar Wilde’s "Salome" - starring Academy Award-winners Al Pacino, Marisa Tomei and Dianne Wiest - attracted a sold-out audience, which began queuing up an hour before showtime. This show follows February’s "Too You, The Birdie (Phedre)," also at St. Ann’s Warehouse, which starred Willem Dafoe and Frances McDormand.
Directed by Estelle Parsons and developed at the Actors Studio, the limited run of "Salome" readings will continue through Dec. 22.
On opening night, the irrepressible actors truly did read from scripts, but frequently broke away from the pages.
"They are inhabiting their characters now. They are really beginning to be those people," commented Parsons, who is popularly known for her years as Roseanne’s mother, Beverly Harris, on the hit television series "Roseanne," not to mention five decades of work in stage, film and screen including her portrayal of Blanche Barrow in 1967’s "Bonnie and Clyde," and Queen Margaret - and herself - in Pacino’s "Looking for Richard" (1996). She is currently the artistic director of the Actors Studio.
Parsons told GO Brooklyn that she and Pacino began collaborating on "Salome" two years ago. She called it "a labor of love."
"When people are available - that’s the basis of our operation - we jump up and do it," said Parsons.
The right space also has to be available.
"It’s a strange work, and Al thought it would be nice to not do a New York run," said Parsons. "[Producer] Amy Nederlander said we should look where the Wooster group played last year - St. Ann’s Warehouse - because it’s not so much a commercial venue but an artistic one (if that distinction can be made), and we all loved it and it happened to be available."
Ultimately, Parsons said she hopes to stage "an experimental production" of "Salome" in repertory with "Oedipus" and possibly with the "Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui," in which Pacino starred in a National Actors Theatre run that ended Nov. 10.
Until then, St. Ann’s audiences will have the opportunity to see "Salome" first, in an incredibly intimate venue that brings America’s best actors - and a few movie idols - into close proximity.
Pacino, who performed "Salome" on Broadway in 1992, revisits characters over and over again, explained Parsons, but "he didn’t want to do it until we found a Salome." Parsons said they talked to "tons of people" before Pacino asked Tomei to consider the part of Princess Salome, the stepdaughter of Pacino’s lusty King Herod.
At one point, King Herod tries to dissuade Salome from a decision, while his queen supports her.
"He really gets deep in himself and the intensity of it is incredible," said Parsons. "When he rises [from his velvet throne], when he needs the big heavy guns and all the strength is needed, and then turns on the queen, everyone in the room gets frightened. That whole passage is terribly meaningful for him. He really loves it."
Wiest plays Queen Herodius, wife of Herod and mother of Salome.
"There’s not a better actress alive in the world today," said Parsons. "Her work has ranged all over the whole territory of femaleness and she says she’s still a work in progress. That part is not at all interesting on paper, and she’s turning it into something terrific."
For Tomei, the role of the headstrong, insolent princess requires her to sensuously dance - unaccompanied, save for some tribal drumming - in front of Pacino and a thunderstruck audience. Parsons said that although this dance is not choreographed, Tomei worked for "many, many months with a Middle Eastern dance instructor and explored the spirituality of it."
Parsons said that the difficulty of staging "Salome" is that Wilde had intended the work to be read by actors - not acted. "When it’s acted out, the audience doesn’t have to use its imagination so much. What we feel is - what we consciously insist - is that the audience imagine what is happening. It’s a strange little opportunity to have that beautiful language so crystal clear."
Readings of Oscar Wilde’s "Salome" will continue at St. Ann’s Warehouse, 38 Water St. at Dock Street in DUMBO, through Dec. 22. Tickets are $50. Seating is general admission. For tickets, call Ticket Web at (866) 468-7619 or go to www.ticketweb.com.