Arts & Events

Theatre Review: The Salt Plays (part one): In the Wound—SHOTGUN Triumphant!

by John A. McMullen II
Tuesday September 07, 2010 - 10:10:00 AM
Dave Maier as Ajax
Benjamin Privitt
Dave Maier as Ajax

I don’t have much padding back there, so, even with a pillow, to keep me sitting in the park on a concrete step in John Hinkel Park for 2 ½ hours, the play has got to be good. 

If you read the Iliad, you will revel in the premiere of Jon Tracy’s In the Wound, that Shotgun’s artistic director Patrick Dooley had the vision to commission. If you didn’t read it when you were supposed to in high school, you will also be fascinated by Shotgun Players’ $10/seat Summer Production. Jon Tracy’s writing and directing fill up every moment of the first act with a play as exciting and fearful as war itself. Taking from Taiko drumming, the goddesses pound out the beat and move their pieces around on the chessboard of war. 

Dave Maier wins awards continuously for his fight choreography, and in this one he imaginatively uses drumsticks as weapons, and, though the hand-on-hand moves are a bit repetitive, the clash of troops is daunting. In this one, he dusts off his actor chops and plays Ajax the Great who went mad from war, and our hearts bleed for him. 

It is updated with overtones of current wars, with Dave Bruno as disbelieving, weary CIA black ops fixer and anti-hero Odysseus. 

Michael Torres, who runs the Laney College drama department, and a charter member of Campos Santos, pretty much steals the show as a growling, semi-articulate Agamemnon, half-general, half-football coach who confuses himself with his own metaphors. His comedy turns to poignancy late in the play in his meeting with his daughter who he sacrificed to make the winds blow the ships to Troy (probably a good idea to look up the plot of the Iliad on Wikipedia before you go).  

Roy Landaverde as Patroclus registers palpable desperation in meeting his doom and losing his lover Achilles, and his voice and articulation are particularly clear and resonant, though the entire ensemble’s vocalization fills the amphitheater. As an actor, Landaverde has come a long way in a short time, and his timing is excellent, though his moment-to-moment intentions could benefit from more variety and clarity. 

The physical toll on the actors is exhausting to watch, particularly on the goddesses who bound like deer and scurry up and down their outlook towers, arguing about strategy and outcome, and taking their orders via telephone from Zeus. Emily Rosenthal gives an ironic turn as surly Hera that brings a grin. 

It is worth it just to see the best young actor I’ve seen around here, Yannai Kashtan as Telemachus, Odysseus’ son, wearing an aviator hat and making paper air planes that bring drones to mind. 

Dave Garrett as an older Menaleus who has been robbed of Helen, his treasure, is pitch-perfect as an old veteran half-Rush Limbaugh, half-sad old fool. It’s all about his loss and his family’s backing his play, and his portrayal brings center-stage the childish selfishness of his character and the senselessness of what he has set into motion. 

A talent to watch for, Tracy translates Homer’s vision into common parlance without pandering, and makes it as immediate and palpable as it was in the Greek national imagination almost three millennia ago. The title itself makes one recoil from the imagined pain of the old metaphor of salt in the wound. Salt implies the metaphor of the sea they cross, and in which our anti-hero will flounder for a decade post-bellum. But the meaning of the title is crystallized in the second act when his son kills a deer and must skin and treat it. And Tracy’s updated Trojan Horse device is particularly chilling.  

Nina Ball’s set and imaginative use of institutional serving carts as curtains, walls of Troy, to help clear the stage, etc., is only one of many ingenious devices that make this good raw theatre. 

Christine Cook’s army camouflage under greaves, leather tunics, and plumed helmets straddle the centuries: uniforms change, war is still horrible. In the hot sweaty September sun, the bared torsos of the young soldiers according the Cook’s design are at once a treat for the eye both sculpture-like and erotic, and a reminder of the lovely young flesh that will soon die and rot in the sun. 

The second act slows down and offers some flashbacks to Ithaca and home and Lexie Papedo’s Penelope lovely singing of songs in Greek. The writing is perhaps a bit indulgent in the second act when things might better pick up---when the hardness of the seating starts to set into the old bones—but forgivable overall, and most meaningful if you are one of those who read all the Greeks plays (Iphigenia at Aulis, etc., etc.) and the modern derivations. 

A must see. 

(Part Two: Of the Earth comes in December, indoors, at Ashby Stage.) 

The Salt Plays (part one): In the Wound  

Shotgun Players at John Hinkel Park, Berkeley 

Saturdays and Sundays at 3pm through October 3 

Running time, about 2.5 hours with an intermission. 

Tickets/ info at or 510-841-6500 ext. 303 

Jon Tracy / Director & Writer; Nina Ball / Set Designer, Christine Cook / Costume Designer; Shawn Einck / Technical Director Katy Lawton / Props Mistress; Dave Maier / Fight Director; Leah McKibbin / Stage Manager; Rebecca Pingree / Props Mistress; Jennifer Stukey / ASM; Sam Tillis / Production Assistant; Brendan West / Composer 


WITH (the largest cast ever at Shotgun): Aleph Ayin, Daniel Bruno.Dave Garrett, Alex Hersle Yannai Kashtan, Roy Landaverde, Charisse Loriaux, Dave Maier*, Lexie Papedo, Harold Pierce, Nesbyth Rieman, Emily Rosenthal, John Thomas, Michael Torres*, Elena Wright*  

Greek Chorus: Perry Aliado (understudy), Kristoffer Barrera, Gilberto Esqueda, Sean Glover, Nicholas Guillory, Ben Haas, Andrew Humann, Choncey Nunn, Daniel Petzold, Tyler Smith 

Trojan Chorus: Lucas Brandt, Justin Hernandez, Tommy Nguyen, Jamie Ramos, Jonathan Williams 

John A. McMullen II takes comments and PayPal at 

Thanks to EJD for input, multiple re-reads and proofing.