Games are not only a source of amusement, they are good practice for the heavy challenges of life. Salome’s Clothes is very much about the games that families play, how some games can be constructive and prepare our children for the world, while others (if not carefully tended) can mask ugly problems and allow them to fester.
The play gives us a Mother of two teenage girls, Nila and Salome. To raise her daughters with a respect for the education she never received, she sets up a game where, when one of them uses a particularly loaded word, each must recite a different definition of that word. Each character’s unique definition serves as a metaphor for their particular attitude toward whatever situation is being addressed and reveals the conflicting inner worlds of each woman in that particular moment.
The two daughters have a game where they give each other a choice between two distasteful options. (“Would you rather have no hair or no teeth.”) It is their way of exploring and processing the potential unpleasantness of life, and helps them to discover who they are.
In order to ensure their immediate financial security, she enters into a marriage with a man we never see named Tom. One night, she discovers that he may be molesting her daughters. None of them ever once make the problem explicit, and so it festers quietly.
The play skips ahead many years very quickly and we are shown, in a very compressed—but surprisingly naturalistic—couple of scenes, how the girls become women, hardened by abuses gone unacknowledged, and have drifted apart from a mother who refused to truly listen to them, who traded their safety and dignity for material comforts.
The text by Donna Michelle St. Bernard paints a very convincing portrait of a family in crisis. With careful attention paid to the intimate details of domesticity that define complex family dynamics, it shows us how easily we can destroy relationships by accident, by simple misguided efforts.
There is an intriguing directorial choice here that surprised me. Director Clare Preuss has set up three hanging microphones upstage. Whenever the daughters go through some domestic routine together, their voices are amplified with a slight echo. I can’t imagine where the idea came from, but at key moments it certainly adds a subtle but eerie other-worldliness to Nina and Salome’s interactions.
Karen Robinson (Mother), Virgilia Griffith and Neema Bickersteth (daughters) are a commanding presence. These women navigate each other’s emotional grooves without ever letting a moment fall flat.
As the play draws towards its disheartening conclusion, all of their interactions are fraught with the tension of unspoken horrors. But even the lighter scenes of domestic bliss seem, in the hands of these three women, poignant and meaningful.
- Salome’s Clothes plays at the Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace (16 Ryerson Ave.)
- Show times: Friday August 9, 1:30 pm; Saturday August 10, 4:00 pm, Sunday August 11, 6:30 pm; Wednesday August 14, 6:30 pm; Thursday August 15, 9:00 pm; Friday August 16, 4:00 pm; Saturday August 17, 1:30 pm.
- All individual SummerWorks tickets are $15 at the door (cash only). Tickets are available online at http://summerworks.ca, By phone by calling the Lower Ossington Box Office at 416-915-6747, in person at the SummerWorks Info Booth (located at 100A Ossington Avenue, first floor) Aug. 6-18 10AM-7PM (Advance tickets are $15 + service fee)
- Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 3 shows.
Photo of Virgilia Griffith, Neema Bickersteth and Karen Robinson provided by Body Theatre.