BWW Review: THE MADWOMAN OF CHAILLOT at the Stratford Festival is Unsettlingly Exhilarating
The very last production to ever open at the current incarnation of the Stratford Festival's Tom Patterson Theatre was David Edney's translation of Jean Giraudoux's THE MADWOMAN OF CHAILLOT. Directed by Donna Feore, this was the world premiere of this translation. It boasts an excellent company and it explores themes and issues that are certainly relevant today.
A major strength of this production is its title character. As Aurelie, the Madwoman of Chaillot, Seana McKenna is an unstoppable force and the level of audience engagement visibly increases when her character is introduced about midway through the first Act. Prior to that, we meet an assortment of characters as they sit at a café in Nazi-occupied France. We are introduced to villainous characters portrayed by Ben Carlson, David Collins, Rylan Wilkie and Wayne Best, as well as some colourful characters such as a juggler (Isaac Giles), a street singer (Mike Nadajewski), a flower seller (Jacklyn Francis), Irma, the Kitchen Girl (Mikaela Davies), Florette, the Deaf Signer (ElizaBeth Morris) and the homeless 'RagMan' played by the always fantastic Scott Wentworth. It should be noted that ElizaBeth Morris, who plays Florette, is a deaf actor. Authenticity and representation are so incredibly important when casting for roles of people with disabilities and so it was good to see that this choice was made. Ms. Morris has a particularly funny moment when Aurelie instructs Florette to write down what she is saying, and then proceeds to hilariously turn every which-way whilst Florette feverishly tries to stay in front of her in order to read her lips.
We are very quickly made aware of who are the haves and the have-nots in this community, and aside from the 'madwomen' who we meet later, most of the 'haves' are not particularly good people. The story is political and presents a clear message that the greedy villains are those with titles like 'president', 'baron', 'broker' and 'prospector', and our 'good guys' are either poor, or 'madwomen'. From the moment she is introduced, it is clear that the Madwoman of Chaillot does not like, and is very suspicious of the 'bad guys'. In the second half of the play, she and her fellow Madwomen (Marion Adler, Kim Horsman, and later, Yanna McIntosh) determine that life would be better without these individuals and concoct a bizarre and somewhat magic-infused plan to rid the world of them.
The scene where Aurelie is visited by the Madwomen of Saint-Sulpice and Passy (Adler and Horsman, respectively) is absolutely hilarious. The three women (and "Dickie" the dog) are at the top of their game. We as an audience get to be a fly on the wall during the most delightfully bizarre tea party that anyone has ever seen.
Another memorable scene, which occurs earlier on in the play, is when Aurelie takes a liking to the unconscious Pierre (played by Antoine Yared). He has tried to kill himself after being caught up in an assassination plot, and when he eventually wakes up, Aurelie has taken it upon herself to explain to him why he should live.
Perhaps the most memorable moment comes at the end, however, when Aurelie follows through on her plan to rid the world of evil. So as not to spoil it, I will only say that the play ends with scenes that manage to be simultaneously dark and whimsical. McKenna's performance, along with the Lighting Design by Kimberly Purtell and Sound Design by Peter McBoyle allow the final moments to be unsettlingly exhilarating...or perhaps exhilaratingly unsettling. I haven't quite decided.
The colourful design by Teresa Przbylski makes the stage and the costumes 'pop' and contributes well to the fantastical element of the play. In particular, the design of the Aurelie's home in the second Act is striking and provides a glimpse into the bizarre world of the character.
Overall, this production was enjoyable, and oddly relatable in terms of the turmoil society is currently feeling with regards to how to protest and counteract people who represent hate and greed. In the real world, things are not quite as black and white as they end up being in this play, and there is no magical solution to how to deal with challenging people...but the story resonates all the same.
THE MADWOMAN OF CHAILLOT continues in Repertory at the Tom Patterson Theatre until October 1st.
Photo Credit: Cylla von Tiedemann