"SALOME" (National Pastime Theater) A Cover-up at the Naked Art Festival

David Bettino as Herod and Kaitlin Chin as Herodius in National Pastime Theater's "Salome" by Oscar Wilde

The phrase “Naked Art Festival” intrigued me.  Although I have seen nudity on stage, I’ve never experienced a theatrical spectacle committed to complete nakedness.  I still haven’t!  National Pastime Theater presents 2011 NAKED JULY:  ART STRIPPED DOWN, SALOME (more info).  The tagline is ‘purity: the unadulterated nature of nakedness.’  My expectation was a show where the actors expose themselves.  Without a costume as a disguise, the actors would bare it all for a raw performance.  Let me make two things clear: I did enjoy Salome and I’m not a pervert.  But when you anticipate full frontal honesty and get a covered-up version, it’s distracting. Salome dances around nudity.  Check out the rest of my review at Chicago Theater Beat AND LISTEN to Audio Podcast at ITUNES Chicago Theatre Reviews for Week of July 15th Facilitated by Joshua Volkers with Katy Walsh.




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    I was the one that wrote that response to the bad review of our opening performance. For those who may not have read it, Chicago Critic gave us a kind of crappy write-up for an Opening Night show. I actually commented on the review, which I've now gathered is a major faux pas. On the podcast he co-hosts, Joshua Volkers said he was embarrassed on the part of all Chicago actors for what I wrote. I have to say, I was thrilled that he mentioned me on the podcast, even in such a negative light, and I see no reason why actors cannot participate in discussion of a show - even a response to a review - as long as that actor's comments are in no way disrespectful. I think if you go back and read what I wrote, you'll see that I did not disrespect that reviewer, and actually agreed with him, for the most part.

    In my response to Mr. Williams' review, I mentioned that cell phones were going off in the house, and that this was a terrible distraction. I'm not sure why Mr. Volkers singled out that one particular comment. I also mentioned that we had dropped some props, and that the acting was infused with a lot of 'indicating', and that I found myself especially guilty of this. Contrary to what Mr. Volkers said on the podcast, I did not intend to offer these as excuses. I took responsibility for the failure that was Opening Night, pointed out the many mistakes that we as a cast were unable to overcome, and singled out myself as the most egregious offender. Hardly excuse-making. I was prompted to offer these insights into the poor opening night performance by a comment in Mr. Williams' review that rubbed me the wrong way, which I'll return to.

    Now, I think what particularly offended Mr. Volkers was my comment about opening nights, and my hatred for them. I think if you could quickly ask directors and other actors with whom I've worked in this city, they will tell you I'm a bit too hard on myself. Some might even call me a jerk. But none of them would question my work ethic. I am as ready for Opening Night as anyone can possibly be. But, ready or not, you're gonna have some clunkers. That performance was a clunker. There were some early mistakes, and we as a cast did not recover. We had a bad opening...one bad show, that's all it was.

    I wasn't angry about the review. I didn't take it personally, except for the 'leave difficult shows to more classical trained actors' comment. I'm sorry, but I find that tough to swallow. By contrast, if Mr. Williams had pointed out that the flaw of the show was not in bad acting, but rather, say, in numerous technical issues, he would be beyond his depth recommending that National Pastime use more experienced stage managers and lighting designers. I think that would indicate a lack of understanding of the performance process, specifically of the pitfalls of opening nights. Likewise, when a reviewer suggests that a certain play is over the actors' heads and beyond their range, one might imagine a similar response. My response was an actor's response. I make no apologies for it; I think critics should hear these things from time to time. I also think it is worth mentioning that other reviewers who saw better shows of Salome looked more favorably on the production as a whole.

    Another point I made, and harp on, is the difference between a show and a production. A production is a bunch of shows. Therein lies the problem with openings. From one performance - which, in many cases, might actually be the first full run - a reviewer must form a credible opinion on the entire production. Not an easy task, and not a task to be taken lightly.

    That said, I agreed with everything else Mr. Williams wrote. I never intended to disrespect him. (Nor, Mr. Volkers, do I wish to embarrass Chicago's acting community.) I'm just another voice weighing in. And maybe I have a right to do that, and maybe I don't. Nonetheless, I'm encouraged by the responses I got from Mr. Volkers and Mr. Williams (who said on the Chicago Critic blog that he appreciated my honesty...meaning, of course, there were things he DIDN'T appreciate, haha!), and I look forward to more exchanges with fellow patrons.

    -D. Bettino

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