by Lynn on September 5, 2017

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Tom Patterson Theatre, Stratford, Ont.

Written by Jean Giraudoux
New Translation by David Edney
Directed by Donna Feore
Designed by Teresa Przybylski
Lighting by Kimberly Purtell
Sound by Peter McBoyle
Choreographed by Stephen Cota
Cast: Marion Adler
Rodrigo Beilfuss
Wayne Best
Tim Campbell
Ben Carlson
David Collins
Mikaela Davies
Ijeoma Emesowum
Jacklyn Francis
Isaac Giles
Jessica B. Hill
Kim Horsman
Zara Jestadt
Josh Johnston
Qasim Khan
Robert King
Josue Laboucane
Cyrus Lane
Yanna McIntosh
Seana McKenna
Elizabeth Morris
Mike Nadajewski
Gareth Potter
Michael Spencer-Davis
Scott Wentworth
Rylan Wilkie
Antoine Yared.

This is a satire played as a loud cartoon. Attention to detail is sacrificed.

The Story. A group of nefarious businessmen, thugs and just plain greedy folks want to dig up Paris to get at the oil they think is there. An idealistic eccentric woman, the Madwoman of Chaillot, decides to round up her fellow misfits to stop them.

The Production. Designer Teresa Przybylski has placed colourful café chairs and tables around the Tom Patterson stage. Circles of swirling colours are on the floor which seem to create a sense of movement—why do I think of Can-Can dancers in full kick? I do find it odd that every costume seems pristine with nary a soiled mark or a patch of worn material.

The President arrives. He is imperious (at least as played by the estimable Ben Carlson), arrogant, demanding and rude. He is joined by the Baron, a loud-talking David Collins. They have plans to capture the oil under Paris, which will destroy the city. The moustachioed Prospector (Wayne Best) sits at another table, scowling. He wears a long, black leather coat with long flaps. When he rises from his chair, he flips his coat flaps with great affectation. All that is missing is for Wayne Best, as the Prospector, to twirl his moustache and sneer. When he talks, it’s with a bellow as well. All the villains shout. Director Donna Feore has directed them to act like cartoon characters—bellow when speaking and move with exaggerated movements.

The decent characters: Aurélie, The Madwoman of Chaillot (Seana McKenna), Irma, The Kitchen Girl (Mikaela Davies), The Ragman (Scott Wentworth who is terrific), The Sewer-worker (Cyrus Lane) to name a few, are reasonable, thoughtful, nuanced and varied as credible people are.

The Madwoman of Chaillot of course is the focus and Seana McKenna plays her masterfully. She has that air of being pre-occupied and perhaps a bit scatterbrained. We learn she is nothing of the sort. While she believes the world is a good and just place, when she realizes the depth of depravity and mendacity of the people who want to destroy Paris for their greedy purposes, she plots to stop them with clear-eyed coolness.

Some of Feore’s staging/direction is troubling. When the Madwoman of Chaillot prepares to welcome the first band of slimy businessmen, great effort is made to let them know that the perfectly-hearing Madwoman is very deaf so they must shout. Fine. But they make a joke about her amongst themselves and roar with laughter, with their backs to the Madwoman but within earshot of her. Here’s the problem. She’s right in front of them and she laughs too. Why? She’s not supposed to be able to hear them make the joke. Is she laughing so as not to be embarrassed at not getting a joke? Again, why? In this context she should have been confused by their laughing if she is truly playing along at being deaf. It’s a moment that does not ring true and needed better directorial attention.

. Jean Giraudoux wrote The Madwoman of Chaillot in 1943 but it was first performed in 1945. It’s a satire of power, how it corrupts, greed and how idealism has to be put aside to combat the evil in that world. And while one hopes that the idealists do win against greed, all that shouting and posturing in the production overpowers the more thoughtful, calm talking decent folks. A disappointment.

Produced by the Stratford Festival.

Plays until Sept. 24, 2017.
Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes. Approx.

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