Jean Giraudoux’s "The Madwoman of Chaillot" directed by Francesca Sobrer at the John Waldron Arts Center is a delightfully comic satire. On one side of the conflict is the power of mining interests and money in the service of the soul less, empty, complexities of high finance. Opposing this juggernaut is a small society of French café types and four old ladies. The types are pathetically down at the heels. The quartet of ladies are eccentric crazies who live in their own private dream worlds. Since "The Madwoman of Chaillot" is a comedy, of course, the ladies and the types win.
The production is very well done. " The Madwoman of Chaillot" uses two dozen actors. Despite the fact that many of them are on the stage at the same time, there was never a feeling of clutter. Things went well from the beginning mad progression of the two-dozen actors in, across and around the set to the more intimate scenes, the mock trial of the capitalists, the full cast mazurka to the triumphant finale. The actors from Bloomington North and South were personable, confidently self-assured and always on their marks.
Much of the action of "The Madwoman of Chaillot" is set in a Paris café. In the opening scene Jonathan Baude is the smug corrupt corporation president, with Nile Arena as an almost too French, Baron. The Baron is an ignorant, but all too willing figurehead. Andi Demi as a broker weaves a wild tale of stock manipulation by false press releases in an animated description. While Demi talked, street juggler Issac Simonelli’s three balls were tossed higher as the stocks went up and lower as they fell. Addison Rogers joined the businessmen’s table as a bluff, expansive tall-tale telling Texas prospector whose nose for oil has detected a pool of it under the whole city of Paris and whose brain has concocted a plan to wildcat the whole town.
Taking up the burden of leading the opposition to these dark forces is Anna Ardizzone as a formidable, magnetic and regally silly Countess Aurelia, the Madwoman of Chaillot. At first the Countess is daunted by the power and money of the opposition, but as soon as she hears that it is accompanied by a weakness for greed, she smells victory. The Countess enlists the help of the Madwomen of Passy, St. Sulpice and La Concorede for a council of war. The council ladies were winningly played by Greer McIntyre, Katya Hooker and Rebecca Giordano
In addition to this power trio, the Countess relies on William Ayrea as the eloquent Ragpicker with vital information from Joel Barker as the Sewer-man and key insights from Ben Froman as the eloquent Deaf-mute. You might think that defeating the forces of corporate greed and exploitation would be enough for our Madwoman, but she also finds time to also condemn the muck-raking journalists led by the pushy Chris Felts and bring the young lovers Grace Rex as Irma and NickRomy as Pierre together.
"The Madwoman of Chaillot" is directed by Francesca Sobrer and produced by Catharine Radedmacher with Bloomington’s North and South High Schools and the Bloomington Area Arts Council. The collaboration on "The Madwoman of Chaillot" is a remarkable part of this production. It extends well beyond Bloomington North and South. It crosses the supposed borders of generations and those of town and gown with help from adult regulars on the theatre and dance scene and even some costumes from IU.
"The Madwoman of Chaillot" is a fantasy of madness in the world versus the real world’s real madness. It’s a brilliantly funny bit of a fable that along the way drops some serious hints. It’s too bad that the Countess’s declaration that "Nothing is ever so wrong in this world that a sensible woman can’t set it right in the course of an afternoon." is only a fantasy.
Jean Giraudoux’s "The Madwoman of Chaillot" plays this Friday and Saturday at eight and Sunday at two at the John Waldron Arts Center.