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BWW Review: The Notorious Courtesan MADAME LYNCH Is Depicted In An Incomprehensible Spectacle With Music

BWW Review: The Notorious Courtesan MADAME LYNCH Is Depicted In An Incomprehensible Spectacle With Music

In the 19th century, Eliza Lynch made her notoriety when she traveled from her native Ireland and became the mistress-wife of the president of Paraguay's son. She bore him six children and was considered "an ambitious courtesan." Some believe she turned him into a bloodthirsty dictator. Others debunk this story as war propaganda. The theater company The Drunkard's Wife has turned her story into "a spectacle with music."

This show is defined by the company as a fragmented portrait. Scenes, both real and imagined, are intended to showcase her life as an adventuress, cultural doyenne, femme fatale and microfinance pioneer. When this show begins, her face is a bit dirty and she reminds me of Marie Antoinette. She's planning a party.

Why is she dirty? Apparently she is digging a grave with her hands. I didn't understand that until I read the script afterwards. She (and the playwrights) like lists. She recites how her guest should come and what they should wear. "You will come as a fishwife of Ghent." Or "a raspberry." Or "three embarrassed laundresses." Pointing toward an audience member, Madame Lynch declares "you will wear a prostitute's yellow hood."

From this point, little can be understood. There are scenes in a forest where someone named the Mighty Gatherer says, "those rattling neotropic insects you hear are heliotropic -- they go to sunlight." What does this have to do with the story? More psychobabble and then the scene ends with "does your Madame Lynch even imagine this?"

Madame Lynch was clearly not my cup of tea. Normandy Sherwood and Craig Flanagin wrote and directed this play. I mentioned earlier that they apparently like lists. Scene 17 is "695 known birds of Paraguay." This is presented as a chorale for Madame Lynch and two other women. I started to worry that they were going to name all of them. I'm not kidding. They listed at least two hundred very specific birds ("the drab-breasted pygmy-tyrant"). While the recitation was creatively intertwined and impressively memorized, the point escaped me entirely.

Happily, Julia Francis Kelly was an inspiring choice to play Madame Lynch. Her performance was a nice blend of understated camp, wide-eyed opportunist and haughty first lady. The costumes by Ms. Sherwood (with Chelsea Collins and Nikki Luna Paz) were eye catching, vividly colored and quite memorable. Seven members of Ballet Panambí Vera, a contemporary Paraguayan dance company, livened up the proceedings with Iliana Gauto's exuberant (and welcome) choreography.

Towards the end of this hodgepodge of a rambling play, undercooked spectacle, dull cartoon and incoherent history lesson stuffed with pretentious dialogue, there is a fashion show. The War of the Triple Alliance is depicted. In a show which excelled in presenting memorable costumes, why was the fashion show so mundane? Points about warfare and casualties were uttered but none of them mattered before moving on to the next vignette.

Madame Lynch wants to be a clever production showcasing the horrors of misguided cultural imperialism. Perhaps the finished product is just too specifically quirky to be enjoyed from outside the creative team's vision. I cannot think of anyone I would send to see this show.

Photo credit: Russ Rowland

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From This Author Joe Lombardi