The Mad Woman of Chaillot 

Jean Giraudoux wrote this play in the mid 1940's and it was not produced until after his death, yet, everyone agrees it could have been written today and it would still be ahead of its time. 

Giraudoux's political cynicism is amply evident in this satirical and socially relevant story that expounds truths through the mouths of characters who seemingly would be the least credible . . . a histrionic woman and a rag picker.

The play opens with a group of prominent business men discussing how their fortunes can be enhanced by clever manipulation of their stocks in the market, and when the president is asked what product the company makes, he is at a loss for an answer.  It's clear that even in the 40's ENRON tactics were alive and well, although there was no name for it yet. 

The men eventually meet a prospector who convinces them that there is oil in the middle of Paris, but since he can't get a permit to drill, he decides to blow up the building where the commissioner works, and maybe the new commissioner will be more receptive to the idea.  Why does one flashback to the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building in Oklahoma City and Tim McVeigh in this scene?

The Madwoman enters, with a seeming cortege of poor, malcontent, non-important people, who include a deaf mute, a doorman, three flower girls, a street singer and the rag picker -- all of whom seem to fawn over her and treat her royally.  More of an eccentric than a madwoman, she is given to strange visions and ideas, and in her conversations, admits that she is convinced that an awful old woman is living behind the large mirror in her home. 
A young man is found attempting suicide and is brought to the cafe near "her"  area.  Being one to become involved in all things, she assists in his revival and discovers that the young man  was a co-conspirator with the prospector in bombing the government building, but his conscience forced him to relent at the last minute.  Through him she learns of the plan to enrich the business men by extracting the oil and she conjures up her own plan to prevent it.

There are other women, equally mad, who are friends of hers.  One brings a non-existing pet on her visits, and the other sees strangers appearing and joining the conversation.  While these women don't add to her plan, she does enlist the help of a third woman friend and sets up a trial in which the aristocrats are charged for their crimes and the rag picker is selected to be their defense.  His presentation is brilliant - eloquent and definitive, and is more of a help to the prosecution than the defense, not surprisingly.

When the accused appear after the trial, they are all masked, symbolically hiding their identities and pretending to be something other than what they actually are.  She has discovered a dungeon-like basement in her home, and leads the accused down in a metaphoric descent to get their just rewards.  The entire play is filled with references to political and industrial abuses towards the masses, but so well couched in humor and metaphors that one has to listen carefully to catch them all.
Every character has symbolic meaning, from the deaf mute who hears more and says more by signing, to the sewer man who knows all about the populace from the garbage they discard. 

The enormous cast does an excellent job but as most plays go, the second act suffers from overextended speeches, especially from the Madwoman, played so well by Joanne McGee.   John Serembe does a terrific job as the rag picker, but he too gets windy in the second act, and the fine line between acting and preaching gets even finer as the third hour of the play approaches.  Gary White did a great job directing such a huge cast, and if he could find a way to condense the second act, the production would be a lot better off.  The scene with the three Madwomen at the start of the second act could use some editing, as could a few scenes just before intermission.

In spite of all, this is fine presentation, not just for the excellent story by Giraudoux, but for the great production values, costuming and sets that add to the believability of the tale.  Too bad there is no Madwoman now.  It seems that this would be a good time for a person with little to lose to come forward and speak a few truths that would unmask the politicians and the so called business leaders of today.

The production will play through September 28. RESERVATIONS AND INFORMATION: (626) 398-6522.

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THE CAST:   Doug Rynerson - Neil Reinhold, Jeff Shevlowitz, Monet-Hurst-Mendoza, Tiffany Serembe, Alexander Rynerson, John Serembe, Sabrina Bruce, Stephanie Meade, Michael Meade, Tom Vick, Will Lucas, Peter Fields, Mueen J. Ahmad, Joanne McGee, Jim Hollander, Craig Wadlin, Katsy Chappell, Kay Bernard, Kelie McIver, Melody Doyle.

            This show initiates a special family package price plan. Admission for a family is $40.00. Family here is defined as mom, dad, and any number of theatre age-appropriate children in an immediate family. (Aunts, grandparents, etc., will have to purchase their tickets separately.)

            SPECIAL! Child care provided performance on Friday September 13 for children too young to sit through a performance. Cost per child for this service is $5.00.

            SPECIAL! Artist receptions follow performances on Fridays September 13 and 20.

WHAT: “The Madwoman Of Chaillot,” a comedy.

WHO: Written by Jean Giradoux. Directed by Gary White. A  production of Arroyo Repertory Theatre in association with the Courtyard Arts Project.

WHERE: The Courtyard Theatre, outdoors on the grounds of St. James United Methodist Church,

2033 E. Washington Blvd., Pasadena. The nearest cross street is Pepper Drive. Abundant safe FREE parking.

WHEN: Opens Saturday August 31, runs through Saturday September 28. Regular

            Showtimes Friday and Saturday at 8, Sunday at 7. Special benefit performance for

            The Canned Food Drive on Thursday September 5 at 8 p.m.

ADMISSION: $18, except for opening and closing night performances, $22. Student,

            Senior, and group discounts available upon request. Admission to Canned             Food

            Drive benefit on September 5 is by donation of two cans of food for each ticket.

       RESERVATIONS AND INFORMATION: (626) 398-6522.

WEBSITE: www.arroyorepertorytheatre.com