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'Salome' brings edgy theater literally close to home 

The one-woman monologue is being performed at homes around the city

TEA TIME: Maia Knispel breaks social conventions in her performance as Salome


TEA TIME: Maia Knispel breaks social conventions in her performance as Salome

Such provocative theater companies as Out of Hand love to remove the layers of separation between performers and the audience. Seeing a show in the round, in a small black box theater, obviously feels more intimate than watching one in a big venue, with rows of seats between you and an elevated stage.

Out of Hand's Salome, written by Charles Mee, delivers an emotional proximity to match its physical closeness. The one-woman monologue performed by Out of Hand co-founder Maia Knispel is being staged in private residences around the city, to barely more than a handful of people at a time. The engrossing, at times uncomfortable evening feels less like playing spectator to a scripted work than meeting an unforgettable person at a party.

I saw Salome on a Saturday night at the Inman Park residence of an Out of Hand board member. An immaculate den off of the kitchen provided the performing space, with background noise coming from the crackling fireplace and the occasionally rattling ice maker. About 15 people sat on sofas and chairs, each of which had a teacup, saucer, sugar cubes and container of creamer. Knispel, as the unnamed woman we might as well call Salome, began the monologue by pouring hot tea for everyone from a china teapot.

Elegantly dressed in pearl necklace, gray sweater and high heels, Salome speaks with the fluting, delicate enunciation of a veteran upper-class hostess. Consequently it comes as a surprise when she casually refers to the time she lost her virginity, and then describes subsequent sexual experiences in increasingly candid ways. At one point Salome describes a sadomasochistic encounter and admits, "I was afraid I would piss myself in pleasure."

This Salome shares the name with the daughter of King Herod II, a Biblical icon of female seductiveness and the title role of an Oscar Wilde play. Without spoiling too much of the Out of Hand show, I'll say that Knispel's Salome also pursues sexuality outside the kind of conventional social norms that her aristocratic comportment and tea party etiquette would seem to exemplify. A huge incongruity develops between Salome's personal presentation and the content of what she says. We might think we live in a sexually sophisticated age, but Salome presents an individual who'll challenge your preconceptions of what's acceptable. Its impact would be lessened in a standard theater, or even a coffee shop, compared to a living room.

Over about 45 minutes, Salome muses on sexuality and offers occasional reminiscences, coming across as weary and bittersweet. Knispel keeps the character's elegant, emotionally-contained façade largely intact, leaving it up to the audience to decide whether Salome's lifelong pursuit of physical pleasure has made her more or less happy than she would be otherwise. Credited with the show's tea-party concept, the actress gives a highly compelling performance, all the more so given that she and the audience are in the same room, under the same light, at times an arm's length away.

Salome's subsequent shows will take place in such neighborhoods as Lake Claire, Decatur, the Old Fourth Ward, and the Marietta Historic District, with every performance followed by a post-show reception. With each taking place in a different residence, no two productions of Salome will be alike, and though it's a quietly confrontational show, it never embarrasses the spectators or betrays their trust.

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