Promethean Theatre Ensemble is currently presenting French dramatist Jean Girandoux’ The Madwoman of Chaillot through March 17, 2018 at The Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport, Chicago. Deftly directed by John Arthur Lewis, the play stars Elaine Carlson in an incandescent, irrepressible version of The Madwoman, and features Jerry Bloom, Brendan Hutt, Jennifer Vance, Brenda Wlazlo, Meghann Tabor, Brendan Connelly, Jamie Bragg, Tom Murphy, Laura Sturm, Brian Hurst and Xavier Lagunas. This production is a breath of fresh air in it’s re-creation of the 1943 poetic satire about a lovable, madcap Parisian Countess who enjoins the characters who work and gather at her café in a struggle against authority and the senselessness of modern life. A little slow in pace, it nonetheless captures a charming ambience.
All the action takes place in 2 acts in the café, “Chez Francis”, cleverly created with a few tables and chairs under a bunting with the colors of the French flag, supposedly located in the Chaillot district of Paris in the Place de l’Alma. In the first Act, a group of corrupt corporate executives scheme to dig up Paris to get at the oil they think is under the streets. When their plot to blow up an office across from the café is spoiled by happenstance, the scheme comes to the attention of the wildly artful and idealistic Countess, who fears the “evil cabal” may ruin the world. She vows to stop them. In Act 2, with the help of her loyal cadre of society’s outcasts, “The Street Singer, The Ragpicker, The Sewerman, The Flower Girl, The Sergeant”, and etc., they convene an eccentric trial, judge these “wreckers of the world”, and consign them to a form of oil-infused Hades.
Using eerily seductive music, whacky but strangely appropriate costumes, pantomime, physical comedy, believable/adorable portrayals and the elegant language of Girandoux, this very capable ensemble constructs an alternate universe, similar to the 1966 French comedy directed by de Broca, King of Hearts, in which the asylum inmates develop a saner world than the one in which they were locked up. The play has an irresistible humor, melding the fantastic and surreal with social commentary. If it seems a little dated, it is because we are a trifle jaded.
Kudos to the production team: Jeremiah Barr, Leigh Barrett, Sam Allyn and Rachel Sypniewski.
For information and tickets to all the fine productions of Promethean Theatre Ensemble, go to www.prometheantheatre.org
All photos by Tom McGrath