Arts & Events

Eye From the Aisle: SALT TWO at Shotgun—True Artistry v. Tedium

By John A. McMullen II
Monday December 13, 2010 - 05:58:00 PM
Features Elena Wright, Charisse Loriaux,
            Dan Bruno, Rami Margron, Emily Rosenthal.
Pak Han
Features Elena Wright, Charisse Loriaux, Dan Bruno, Rami Margron, Emily Rosenthal.

THE SALT PLAYS, PART TWO: OF THE EARTH is the second installment of Jon Tracy’s take on the Greek Epics produced by the Shotgun Players. It is a work of art, hauntingly beautiful in design, fascinating in choreography, impeccably executed lighting and sound, excellently acted. But it is often tedious. Go figure.  

The play could be described as enigmatic Homer cum Beckett. Occasionally, the blinding brilliance of the play flashes much like the back lights do when creating the storm at sea—or the storm in Odysseus’ head? Tempos vary from fast-and-furious to lost-at-sea slow. Perhaps it is the many extended moments, or the mystery and dreamlike tone of this often poetic play that makes for tedium in the midst of consummate theatrical artistry.  

Whatever the reason, it is worth seeing, but it would help to familiarize yourself with the Odyssey and perhaps with “Salt Play: (Part One)—In the Wound.” This summer precursor revisited and deconstructed the Iliad, casting clever Odysseus the Fixer, the Mastermind, the Plotter as a CIA operative.  

Conspiracy theorists will recall the CIA using LSD in the MK-ULTRA project; Tracy builds on the Lotus Eaters myth and the implied narcotizing of Troy to ravage the city and end the war. This is just one of many analogies Tracy suggests. For a country embroiled in war like ours has been now for near a decade—the length of the Trojan War—it is eerily apt.  

Anachronistic and violent, this summer’s “Salt: In the Wound” was played out in the hot sun with the dust and sweat and imagined blood palpable through the exciting clash of armies under Dave Maier’s fight choreography. Nervous gods, fearing the wrath of CEO Zeus, oversaw and manipulated that War in Hinkel Park. Its final scenes had enough mystery to presage the sequel and to invoke the lesser known plays of Euripides, who explored many of the same implications of the aftermath of the Trojan War.  

(Here’s my summer review of SALT: IN THE WOUND

SALT TWO is ocean cool. In a sea-green room bathed in an interrogator’s cone of light, with scaffolding and upstage sliding doors, the gods play out their jealousies and display their own pecking order with Odysseus as their pawn. It has the same percussion drumming as the summer Iliad play, with evocative videos on the diorama from the summer production, but the story is more tortuous and contained. It has overtones of the Patrick McGoohan late ‘60’s TV cult classic “The Prisoner” with all the same elements of science fiction, allegory, and psychological drama. 

There are questions: How will the slaughter/sacrifice of Agamemnon’s daughter Iphigenia be atoned? Where do the gods come from—the spirits of slaughtered animals grown powerful in the ether? How can they be in two places at once; or are they anywhere at all? Is this really happening, or is this an Expressionistic expression of what is smashing around inside the skull of a Covert Black Ops Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder victim? 

Tracy and choreography consultant Bridgette Loriaux create a Theatre of the Imagination with imaginative simplicity wherein the memory of Penelope weaves a ship out of string for her stranded sailor husband and five actresses climb the scaffold to create the Cyclops with their bodies, choreography, and a simple spotlight for the eye. Notable is Circe’s almost levitating seduction of Odysseus executed with balletic grace by Charisse Loriaux. 

Curly haired, strong jawed, sophisticatedly handsome Daniel Bruno returns in the starring role as Ulysses a la James Bond. Dave Maier’s fight choreography is even more effective in this installment—and there is a lot of pole-fighting and ass-kicking in this one, too.  

All the gods and goddesses are played by women. When I saw that Zeus, that embodiment of priapic male energy, would be played by a woman, I felt an immediate internal prejudice arise. Within moments, Rami Margron as Zeus dispelled those reservations, as did Anna Ishida as Poseidon. They are compellingly masculine in uniforms fashioned somewhere between Star Trek and Japanese Sci Fi warriors. 

Tracy knows his classics perhaps too well for the average audience. It is sad that the characters and incidents of the Odyssey have become almost esoteric; in the lobby at intermission, I heard many questions about what was happening. Again, I recommend a quick Wiki read on “The Odyssey” for a background refresher.  

Tracy has a sharp sense of irony and understatement: when Telemachus relays the TV report on Agamemnon’s “apparent suicide,” he muses, “That family has been through a lot.” However, if you don’t know about the House of Atreus and all the adultery, incest, cannibalism, and barbaric tragedy that followed its descendants, then the joke may be lost.  

It is filled with anachronisms of the modern world circa post-WWII, e.g., Telemachus marvels over his recently acquired miraculous television. Tracy seldom passes on the attempt to inject humor, e.g., each time doors open and Circes’ little piggies come out to squeal and snort, I had a good giggle. 

Outside of “The Godfather,” sequels are generally a let-down. Still, “Salt Plays Part Two: Of The Earth” is worth seeing for the artistry, theme, and timeliness. The ancient two-part Epic can be viewed as the most anti-war tract ever written if you see past the façade, and Tracy brings that home to us. 


THE SALT PLAYS, PART TWO: OF THE EARTH, inspired by The Odyssey by Homer  

Presented by Shotgun Players, Patrick Dooley, artistic director  

At Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave., Berkeley (at Martin Luther King Jr. Way) opp. Ashby BART 

Wed-Sun through Jan 16 

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

Written and directed by Jon Tracy, movement consultation by Bridgette Loriaux, set design by Nina Ball, lighting design by Lucas Krech, sound conceptualization by Daniel Bruno, fight direction by Dave Maier, videography by Lloyd Vance, musical composition by Brendan West, costume design by Tina Yeaton, with stage management by Leah McKibbin. 

With: Daniel Bruno, Anna Ishida, Charisse Loriaux, Rami Margron, Lexie Papedo, Daniel Petzold, Emily Rosenthal, and Elena Wright (AEA).  

John A. McMullen II when young fell in love with Blind Homer’s legends. This is his 30th review for Berkeley Daily Planet since he began in April. Indispensable and inspirational editing by EJ Dunne. Comments to