“The Madwoman of Chaillot” is a satirical play by Jean Giraudoux. It was written in 1943 and tells the tale of an eccentric Parisian woman and her friends who foil a plan to drill for oil in Paris. The play was adapted by Maurice Valency and directed by Stephanie Shroyer (“The madwoman of Chaillot,” 2017). This paper will provide a critique of the play, its world, theme, acting, directing as well as my opinion on the production.
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The World of the Play
The play takes place in Paris at an unspecified date. Characters’ clothes and professions suggest that the play is set in the 1930s. However, the date is kept vague on purpose, likely to make the play timeless because otherwise, it would have to be set during the Nazi occupation of France. The play starts with a nefarious plot by unnamed industrialists who are referred to as “The President,” “The Prospector,” “The Broker,” and “The Baron.”
They create a plan to drill for oil in Paris, with no regard for the environment of the city, its cultural importance, or even the safety of citizens. In opposition to them, stands an eccentric Countess Aurelia, also known as “The Madwoman of Chaillot.” Despite her eccentric outlook on life, she is concerned with the state of the city and its citizens. She has a circle of friends and like-minded people who help her foil the plans of the industrialists by leading them into a bottomless pit.
Her friends are also eccentric and provide different outlooks on life that help her achieve success. One of the more important characters is referred to as “The Rag Picker.” He provides worldly knowledge about corruption that the antagonists of the play have created in almost every aspect of life. The primary conflict of the play is between the greed of the antagonists and the care and goodness of the protagonists, with the Countess taking on a role of an unlikely paragon of justice against the egotistical and cynical industrialists.
The Theme of the Play
The theme of the play is relatively simple: greed can corrupt and ruin everything and therefore it has to be opposed. The choice of the opponent, however, is very deliberate. The majority of the characters who oppose the plan are outcasts, eccentrics, and artists who find themselves at odds with the world they live in. This is not just a subversion of the traditional image of heroes but a part of the message that the playwright was trying to deliver through the play.
The industrialists, despite their ludicrous and nefarious plan, are seen as respected people in a position of power that allows them to do anything without citizens going against them. They have already established themselves in the world, and their actions have made it a worse place to live. However, they are completely normal people in the sense that their behavior is not seen as out of the ordinary by society at large. On the other hand, the protagonists of the play are shunned, mocked, and feared by the world, despite their inherent goodness.
It is important to consider that the play was written in 1943 when the world was thrown into the worst war in history by people who were respected in their countries despite the terrible policies of genocide and discrimination that they promoted. The author warns viewers that they should not respect people just because they have a higher status in life, especially when their primary motivation is greed.
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Acting and Directing
Countess Aurelia was portrayed by Deborah Strang and performs in an energetic and charming manner. Her interactions with the cast appear effortless and natural, with no hint of insincerity. The comedic scenes elicited a powerful reaction from the crowd, and the dramatic ones felt insightful and relevant to the modern age. The supporting cast was just as engaging, with George Villas’ Rag Picker featuring in some of the best scenes of the play. The performance of the industrialists by Michael Sturgis, Armin Shimerman, Wesley Mann, and Apollo Dukakis deserves additional praise for the cartoonish menace that they portrayed through exaggerated movements.
The play was well directed, with no part of the production standing out in a negative light. The costumes, in particular, were carefully selected and perfectly reflected in their characters. The madwomen wore old-fashioned frilly dresses with complicated hats that showed signs of game, while the industrialists wore brand new suits of the era.
I was pleasantly surprised by this play. This was the first time I have seen it, and I was not sure what to expect. However, the charming production and the engaging performances left me with a positive impression at the end of the night. The optimistic conclusion of the play, unfortunately, seems a bit naïve in the current political climate, but it could be seen as a sign of hope for the future. After all, the play was written in much more desperate and difficult times than now. I would definitely recommend the play to people who enjoy comedic and satirical theatre.
The Madwoman of Chaillot is an entertaining production. Its themes are simple, but they are performed well and directed with attention to detail. It is a play that I can recommend to most people.
The madwoman of Chaillot. (2017). Web.