With its arch, incantatory dialogue and florid eroticism, Oscar Wilde's "Salome" may be a little hard to take seriously, but if you're not going to take it seriously, why stage it at all? The Actors' Gang and director David Schweizer play it as broad comedy, willfully ignoring the rather salient fact that the text isn't funny.

With its arch, incantatory dialogue and florid eroticism, Oscar Wilde’s “Salome” may be a little hard to take seriously, but if you’re not going to take it seriously, why stage it at all? The Actors’ Gang and director David Schweizer play it as broad comedy, willfully ignoring the rather salient fact that the text isn’t funny (they even bill it, perversely, as “The Tragedy of Salome”). The result is a grisly spectacle that makes the tardy arrival of that severed head seem anodyne. This “Salome” plays like some deranged cross between Disney’s “Hercules” and Penthouse’s soft-porn epic “Caligula.”

Leaping gleefully past the little obstacle of the play’s essential seriousness, Schweizer packs the stage with preening guards slathered in eye shadow and body glitter; a goofy Narraboth who strikes poses and mugs; vomiting, flatulent Romans; and various other bits of silly business that would give Wilde pause, if not a heart attack. The Richard Howard translation is used, though the dialogue is delivered as if it were punch lines, not poetry.

Herod arrives on Carmen Miranda heels, and is played by V.J. Foster as a crabby queen whose obsessive interest in Salome can only be ascribed to her vague boyishness. His wife, Herodias (Patti Tippo), is got up in a blue vinyl dress with snakelike appendages, and snarls like an annoyed housewife. (Salvatore Salamone’s costumes supply most of the show’s cartoonish color, while Katherine Ferwenda’s set is the most appealing thing on display.)

Sinewy and pale, Gary Kelley fares better as John the Baptist — perhaps because his dilemma isn’t so easy to mock — and gives a haunted, driven feeling to his lines (though how he came by a P.A. system in that cistern is not explained).

The Salome of Tordy Clark, meanwhile, resembles nothing so much as a tomboyish waif model, complete with guttersnipe English accent, black eyeliner and bad attitude. But by the play’s close her offbeat performance does begin to exert a wayward fascination; when she’s alone with John’s severed head and the manic mess Schweizer has orchestrated subsides, the eerie beauty of Wilde’s conception finally comes through in glints, like the play’s much-discussed moon peeking through a haze of clouds.

Salome

Actors' Gang Theater; 99 seats; $15 top

Production

The Actors' Gang presents a play in one act by Oscar Wilde, translated by Richard Howard. Directed by David Schweizer.

Creative

Set, Katherine Ferwenda; lighting, Rand Ryan; costumes, Salvatore Salamone; sound, John Zalewski; choreography, Lisa Covell; production stage manager, Robin Veith; assistant director, Gary Stella. Opened, reviewed Jan. 30, 1998; runs through March 7.

Cast

Cast: Brent Hinkley (Narraboth), Jason Reed (Page), Greg White (First Soldier), Ken Elliott (Second Soldier), David Wiater (A Cappadocian), Steven M. Porter (Tigellinus), Quentin Drew (Naaman), Tordy Clark (Salome), Ken Palmer (Manessah), Gary Kelley (John, a prophet), V.J. Foster (Herod Antipas), Patti Tippo (Herodias), Daniel T. Parker, Dean Robinson (Jews), Don Luce (A Nazarene), Don Cummings (Iasachar), Gabriel Sigal (Ozias).

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