“The Madwoman of Chaillot”: An anti-capitalist method to her madness
Deborah Strang, Jill Hill, and Susan Angelo / Craig Schwartz

PASADENA, Calif. — In The Last Tycoon F. Scott Fitzgerald famously quipped, “There are no second acts in American lives.” I’m glad this isn’t true about drama, because I started drifting off during the first act of A Noise Within’s (ANW) production of Jean Giraudoux’s 1943 The Madwoman of Chaillot. I found Act I, which takes place at Angela Balogh Calin’s rather airy set for Café Chez Francis, to be too talky. But I decided to stay for the duration, and ended up very happy I did, because the second act was gloriously delirious.

The eponymous Madwoman may not exactly be a tycoon, but Countess Aurelia (Deborah Strang) seems affluent enough to be one of those rarefied figures considered to be “eccentric,” rather than “insane.” When the “practical,” profit-minded Prospector (Armin Shimerman), President (Wesley Mann), and Baron (Apollo Dukakis, yes, related to both Olympia and Michael) become convinced there’s oil beneath the cobblestoned streets of Paris, they resolve to find and exploit it—even if it means laying waste to the City of Lights.

Aurelia resolves to stop them. To do so, she conspires with her fellow daffy “madwomen”: Gabrielle (Jill Hill), Josephine (Veralyn Jones), and Constance, the Madwoman of Passy who is passing strange. As portrayed by ANW resident artist Susan Angelo, Constance has a penchant for invisible animals and other oddities. With its sheer hilarity, this scene at the top of Act II really livened things up, showing this work to be a clever spoof of capitalism, notwithstanding that the playwright was a conservative who served in the Vichy government. (He died in 1944 under circumstances never quite made clear.)

In particular, it was a delight to see Angelo, an actress I’ve been watching for years, sink her teeth into a meaty comedic role. And what a surprising bite she has, revealing her wide acting range and comic chops.

Another standout in this large cast colorfully attired by Calin and directed by Stephanie Shroyer, is George Villas as the Rag Picker, who delivers a tour-de-force monologue/diatribe as if he is to the manor born instead of a down-on-his-heels street person, holding forth about the power of property in capitalism’s courts. “I am the law!” he thunders, as if by virtue of his imagined wealth he knows the Golden Rule: He who has the gold makes the rules.

ANW’s insightful playbill makes comparisons between Madwoman’s mad capitalists’ greed for oil and the Dakota Access Pipeline that would transport crude oil beneath the Missouri River, which touched off a furor of protests led by indigenous tribes. In 1969 Katharine Hepburn co-starred with Richard Chamberlain, Paul Henreid, Oskar Homolka, Yul Brynner, Edith Evans and Donald Pleasence in a movie version of Madwoman shrewdly set against the backdrop of France’s 1968 student-worker uprising, one of the first fiction films to depict those events.

Written during the Nazi occupation of Paris, Giraudoux’s play retains its relevance, punch, and laughs out loud. This satire about the thirst for riches has staying power—and am I glad I stayed to see it all!

A Noise Within’s production of The Madwoman of Chaillot plays through Nov. 11 in repertory with Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities and opening in October, George Bernard Shaw’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession at 3352 East Foothill Blvd., Pasadena 91107.

For exact times, dates and more info: (636) 356-3100; www.anoisewithin.org.

 

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CONTRIBUTOR

Ed Rampell
Ed Rampell

Ed Rampell is an L.A.-based film historian/critic and co-organizer of the 70th Anniversary Commemoration of the Hollywood Blacklist.

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