Review: The Madwoman of Chaillot – the payoffs are big in act two

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Last night I discovered patience is indeed a virtue.  For while I struggled with act one of the Theatre UBC production of The Madwoman of Chaillot, act two simply exploded on stage in a fun and effervescent conclusion, making it all worthwhile.

Joanna Williams in The Madwoman of Chaillot. Photo by Tim Matheson.Life in Paris is relatively calm and serene with the citizens of the Chaillot district creating a comfortable community among their disparate group with the Cafe de l’Alma at its center.  But their community is interrupted by a group of corrupt corporate executives and their henchmen who plot to dig up Paris to get to the oil they believe to be beneath the city streets.  Hearing of their plan, Countess Aurelia (Joanna Williams pictured right in a photo by Tim Matheson), hatches a plan to fight back and with the help of the locals becomes their judge, jury and executioner.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Paris without love.  Layered on top of the satire is a love story as the young waitress Irma (Sarah Goodwill) falls for bad-guy-turned-good Pierre (Ryan Warden) and even the Madwoman herself reconnects with a lost love in a beautiful speech in act two.

There is also an underlying satirical parody around Nazi ideology that is covered quite nicely in the show’s programme and it makes for interesting reading before the show.  However, it isn’t necessary to understand these parallels to get something from this show.  What it does take is some perseverance to wait for the  payoffs in act two.

While act one left me unable to connect with Jean Giradoux’s characters, as act two progressed in the Madwoman’s cellar, the entire production started to come into focus.  Of course it didn’t hurt to have such a deliciously fun trio served up at the second act curtain as Aurelia lays out her plan to stop the destruction of Paris to her fellow Madwomen Constance (Mishelle Cuttler), and Gabrielle (Tich Wilson).  These three women were such a delight to watch as they played off each other with such whimsical abandon that I wished the scene wasn’t over so quickly.

Next up was the in absentia trial led by a wonderful performance from David A. Kaye as the Ragpicker.  Kaye is so full of energy and talent, bounding about the stage, that it left me positively breathless.

In the penultimate scene, as big business and greed is ultimately vanquished, Director Stephen Heatley conjures up a gateway into an abyss that had me laughing all the way to their hell.

Big shout-outs to the costume designers (Alison Green, Steffi Lai, Megan Gilron and Jen Waterhouse) who give us some wonderful Parisian contrasts from the sophisticated dress of the evil corporate executives, the more pedestrian costume of the common folk and the wonderfully off-kilter elegance of the Madwoman herself.  Scenic designer Sally Song Ilang’s second act cellar was a delight although I had wished that the clutter that so perfectly complimented the Madwoman had played more of a role.

As the curtain fell I couldn’t help but think of the words of the Madwoman herself: “nothing is ever so wrong in this world that a sensible woman can’t set it right in the course of an afternoon”. I only wished the first part of the afternoon was as engaging as the last.

3 out of 5 Stars The Madwoman of Chaillot
Frederic Wood Theatre, UBC
30 September – 9 October 2010

Tickets are $2 – $22 by calling 604-822-2678 or at the theatre box office.

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