French author Jean Giraudoux's classic comedy The Madwoman of Chaillot was written in 1943, while Germany occupied France, only for it to be first produced in December 1945 when the war had come to a halt. Yet in today's world, when fracking, contaminated water, and plutocracy flood the national headlines, the play seems ripped from our daily headlines. Unfortunately, A Noise Within misses the mark on making this production feel vital in our world thanks to chaotic staging and a weak opening scene that plagues the show's momentum.
In a small section of Paris, corrupt businessmen plan to rip apart the City of Light for its supposed seeping crude oil hidden in the sewers. These gluttons of power and money care not for the ramifications of sucking up the world's resources for their own gains and have utter contempt for the common man. Those they consider the dregs of society refuse to be destroyed, and under the guidance of the Madwoman of Chaillot (Deborah Strang), the singers, waiters, sewer men, lunatics, and lovers rise up to take down the corrupted.
Director Stephanie Shroyer realizes the urgency of Giraudoux's play based on the program notes paralleling the play's plot to the conflict between the Dakota Access Pipeline and Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, but her sloppy staging dispels the tension and the humor of the production. From the opening moment, to the climactic scene where the businessmen, vulture-like press, and wealthy old society women climb down to the sewers for their just desserts, Shroyer does not demand or receive uniformity from her cast. Like a ballet number, these scenes require exactness to succeed, but what the company delivers is a lazy commitment to movement that feels disjointed and different for every cast member. In other scenes, Shroyer clutters her staging to the point that it clouds the play's pertinent issues.
Thankfully, the performances are this production's great attributes. Strang is quirky and bombastic as Countess Aurelia, the self-appointed mayor of the ordinaries. Her spirited tone brings the most laughs and tenderness. Equally daffy are the three other madwomen, Mme. Constance (Susan Angelo), Mme. Gabrielle (Jill Hill), and Mme. Josephine (Veralyn Jones). As they banter on about being jilted by imaginary friends or ignored by someone else's voices in their head, it's clear the actresses have found nobility in their characters' insanity.
The weakest performance sadly comes from the President (performed by understudy Michael Uribes the night I attended), whose stilted and passionless opening monologue brings down the first several minutes of the play, forcing the outstandingly malevolent Armin Shimerman, as the ruthless prospector, and Strang to pull the show's momentum up by its bootstraps. Shimerman hits all right notes as the menacing villain who is cruel to the marginalized but falsely polite to the police. As the lovers, Rafael Goldstein and Leslie Lank are a darling set. Stephen Weingartner, who plays both the Sergeant and Sewer Man, creates characters that enhance the play's charm.
The costumes by Angela Balogh Calin are a treat to the eye, appropriately over-frilly for the madwomen, understatedly bohemian for the youths, and stiffly suited for the villains. Calin's wood-planked set transforms between a café and an apartment basement seamlessly, without the use of backdrops or scrims.
The world these days desperately needs a Madwoman to refresh the 21st century from its hypocrisy and hostilities. This production of The Madwoman of Chaillot at A Noise Within could have been a beacon, but instead feels merely like a footnote.
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