Salome Jens: Clarity and Elevation

I was like a rabid dog for so long, you see, although rabid dogs aren’t really after anything, I suppose, other than release from their misery: I was, truth be told, a ravenous dog, a wild and hungry bitch looking for my own release, but it was creative release, and I was terribly hungry. The fog was not rolling in across the boards very much; I had damaged the machinery—no gods appeared from their heights with a woman. So…we go to the theatre, the cinema, the television screen, which we pull closer to us, near the typewriter or the pad, and we scribble and we wait, and a voice, a form might appear….It was on one of those hungry walks about town that I saw Salome [Jens]. The first exposure was probably The Disenchanted, but my creative captivity began when I saw The Balcony, which I was drawn to by the playwright, but I was kept there by the vision that she projected—a vision that was not merely hair and skin and legs—all of which could keep a person transfixed—but by talent and intellect and an acute vision that she had trained on so many layers of that play: ugly layers, certainly, but ugly layers peeled back by the lapidary skills of a great and damaged writer. There is great prejudice delivered to the pretty and the wise, and I feared that for her, but the talent was greater than the creamy vessel into which it had been poured, and so she teased it, taunted it, trained it, cast it over the prison wall beauty has created for so many others who were similarly gifted.

Salome Jens, Ted Mann, and Sylvia Miles during production of The Balcony.

 Her Josie [in Eugene O'Neills A Moon for the Misbegotten] was particularly extraordinary—we bandy these words about so much they fail to mean anything, but she was frighteningly poignant, sensual, angry, a futile feminine figure cast against an unforgiving horizon—a horizon not unlike the sky that beats down on my Alma. How long can you fight? And with what? What are the weapons we have at our disposal, and how wisely can we deploy them? All of these questions were in that performance, driven into the text, into the performance, into my heart. I do not think she is capable of sloth—artistic sloth, I mean. I think that clarity and elevation are primary goals for her: I think she wants to get to the bottom of things, find out what the natural order of a person is, as so many like to say. She acts from a deep place—emotional as well as technical. She doesn’t pose. I was unable to sleep one night and put on the television, hoping for some company and some fog, and there she was, on some late-night horror thing, and I sat up and was amazed because, I thought, She’s elevating that! A poor port for a great talent, but there’s a lesson for you—for all of us. We husband and we love our talents, and we take them on great trips we hope will expose them to adventure and erudition and an appreciative audience, and we never know what we will find, what we will receive, how we will be received. I have told you that I lack a faith that would make my journey easier, and I do not think that Salome lacks this faith.

©  2019  James Grissom


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