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 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.