Saturday, October 24, 2015

Yael Farber Day - Symposium and Salome

I was lucky today to have an enlightening and exciting theater day.

Early in the day I attended a symposium on Farber's play Salome and women in theater with several outstanding panelists, among them director and writer Yael Farber.

Yael Farber directed The Crucible with Richard Armitage.

Asides Live: Where are Women's Voices was hosted by the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington DC.  There were three one-hour panels: Female Heroes in Drama, Women's Voices and Structured Poetics, Approaching Women of The Bible. Yael Farber was part of the second panel.

I arrived a bit late (thanks Metro) so had to sit in the front row, not my favorite spot usually. But it turned out for the best since I was only about two feet from the panelists who were seated up on a small platform in front of the room.  

I'll just give you a few impressions, concentrating on Salome and on Farber, since that was my main interest in attending. I also had a ticket for Salome (matinee) immediately following the symposium. But all were wonderful and informative panelists. I used to attend this sort of thing, and the theatre, quite a bit when I was younger.  I sadly don't really now for a variety of reasons, and I miss it. 

The first panel featured Nadine Malouf who plays Salome.Without giving away too many spoilers, one of the highlights for me was her discussion about the "seven veils" and how the version in the play came about during rehearsals. 

The second panel with Yael Farber was the one I was waiting for. She is the intelligent and articulate person we all saw or read in interviews during The Crucible, but she's also very funny. Good to know considering the seriousness of her plays, both her writing, "reimagenings" and directing. I can see why she and Richard Armitage would get along and work so well together. Her lovely daughter was there too, sitting in the front row, and at one point joined her mother on the platform. (She's about 12 or 13 I think.) 

There were a few mentions about the Crucible by Farber, and she quoted Arthur Miller at one point. I wasn't taking notes, so don't remember the exact quote. Thought it was interesting that she said she never talked to any of the Crucible actors directly about their characters. (She was responding to a question about her way of working.)  She believes in working with the physical first and foremost and discovering the characters and the play that way. Though she and  Olwen Fouere, who plays the "nameless woman" in Salome and was one of the panelists, discussed together and separately how the conversation between director (Farber) and actor is a constant, before, during rehearsal, and even now that performances have started. I also must mention how much I enjoyed Olwen Fouere who I didn't know before, or if I did, not her name. She's coming back to DC in another play soon, one woman play, and I may go and see her. 

(Yael didn't mention Richard by name at any point, only referred to the Crucible cast.) 

There was also a moment during the third panel that made me smile in recognition.  Salome's assistant director (Rob Jansen) mentioned this art book that Farber was constantly using during rehearsals and that she had the actors use as a reference and for inspiration. He said she also gave the book to the set designer for inspiration. The book, and the images, are from none other than Odd Nedrum.  

Remember Odd Nedrum?  Richard Armitage tweeted several images of Odd Nedrum's work when he was, or before he was, working on Pilgrimage

No one in the audience reacted to the name, even the assistant director had trouble remembering it. I was the only one in the room probably excited to hear the artist's name and recognize it. I thought at that moment "I love you Richard for bringing so many wonderful new discoveries into my life." 

It was a pleasure to see and listen to Yael Farber in person.

The third panel was very interesting too, about women in the Bible and their interpretation through the ages. Interpretations by men of course.  

On to the play.

There are many fabulous and detailed reviews and analysis of Farber's Salome out there in the DC and professional theatre media. I'm just going to write a few of my impressions of the play, hopefully with only a few SPOILERS. 

Adapted and Directed by Yael Farber
October 24, 2015

- Visually it is impressive, fantastic, minimalist. Amazing what light, fabric, color,texture, and a few chairs and tables will do.

- The opening was very reminiscent of the opening of The Crucible in movement and the use of music. Stage was not in the round, and setting in the Middle-East, colors, costumes, different. But the echoes of Crucible were there.

- A very political play, which I already knew from the symposium and two reviews I had read.  Even so, still some surprising moments. Really a play that should be seen more than once. (Though don't think I will, again for a variety of personal/logistic reasons, and it is sold out.) But should be seen twice.

- An impressive cast. Two performances stood out for me. 

      * Olwen Fouere as Nameless Woman who may be Salome as an older woman, or her spirit. But she's also an "oracle" and/or "Greek chorus".  To me she is the center of the play.
      * Ramsi Choukair as John the Baptist (Iokanaan) who speaks all his dialog in Arabic. I don't understand Arabic, but I understand human expression and emotion. Even if we had not as the audience known what Iokanaan was saying, we would understand. The actor using the instrument of tone of his voice and body and facial expressions.

Nadine Malouf and Olwen Fouere

Ramzi Choukair

- Music and singing throughout the performance contributed to the feeling of being in a play that feels very much like an opera. Though none of the lead actors sing.

- Movement is also constant - the actors and the stage itself.  Mesmerizing. 

- Good performance also from T. Ryder Smith as Pontius Pilate. All the political machinations of all involved. Nothing changes.

- I'm not sure if I feel differently about Salome's act now,not the seven veils, (though that's an interesting scene) but what happens to John the Baptist. Was it a political act? Much remains unanswered.

I'm looking forward to continuing to follow Yael Farber's work. I do hope she and Richard Armitage work together in the very near future, whether here in the US (New York I hope) in the UK, or wherever they will. 

Photos from various sources on Google Images.


  1. Yael Farber is a director whom I look forward to experiencing more of her work. Thanks for sharing your experiences at the Salome discussion panels and performance!


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