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BWW Reviews: MADWOMAN OF CHAILLOT Saves the World in Style at Avant Bard


Countess Aurélie and her fellow madwomen are back to save Chaillot, Paris and the world in a stylishly realized theatrical tour-de-force. As directed by Christopher Henley, WSC Avant Bard's THE MADWOMAN OF CHAILLOT is a feast for the eyes and ears. The production, in an exciting and vibrant translation by Laurence Senelick, also feeds the soul as a reminder of how precious our fragile earth really is and how important it is for someone, anyone, to take a stand to protect it.

This MADWOMAN is also brilliantly acted from the members of the quirky ensemble to the queen bee herself, Countess Aurélie, effortlessly brought to life by Avant Bard company member Cam Magee.

Where to begin? When I walked into Theatre Two of the Gunston Arts Center I was immediately transported to an impressionistic dream, depicting a boulevard café, with the Eiffel Tower and other Parisian landmarks painted as if on gossamer. The impressive scenic design by Collin Ranney was painstakingly realized with the grace of Renoir by Megan Hart, Camille Patrillo, and Lynn Sharp Spears. The magnifique atmosphere was further enhanced by Frank DiSalvo Jr.'s delightful sound design of French tunes, classic and modern. (During intermission, members of the cast performed live in the lobby.)

As the play begins, the precarious world of Paris and Chaillot are established as mere pawns to the ultra-rich, greedy and ruthless men of business and industry. Jay Hardee as the alpha-villain and Chairman of the Board could be a stand-in for one of the Koch brothers. "The poor are not entitled to an opinion about life," he snarls, sounding like any number of the one-percenters who grab headlines today. The Chairman is joined by the aristocratic and corrupt Baron (Kim Curtis), and the devious Stock-Broker (Joe Palka). As they scheme to rape and pillage the money of the masses and the resources around them for their own gain, they are joined by Theo Hadjimicheal as a Prospector who claims crude oil bubbles underneath Paris. Hardee, Curtis, Palka and Hadjimichael relish their devilish portrayals as the dog-eat-dog, let's-get-richer types.

Credit must go to the detailed and creative direction by Christopher Henley for helping the cast find just the right balance for the playing style to paint the heightened world Giradoux (via Senelick's new translation) created for the play.

The ensemble also has a grand time playing a variety of roles as street people, small investors, and the staff at the café. Gray West, Tony Greenberg, Denise B. Marois, Jose Martinez switch roles with ease.

What is a French play without a little romance? The attractive café dishwasher Irma (Daven Ralston) turns the eye of the handsome, young Pierre (Zach Roberts) who was the victim of an attempted murder by the Prospector.

Arriving just in the nick of time to help save Pierre and eventually the entire city of Paris, Countess Aurélie is a breath of cool air that provides a mighty wind to blow away the greed of the Chairman and his fellow scoundrels. The Madwoman of the title has always been a vivid character - played in film by Katherine Hepburn and in Jerry Herman's musical version DEAR WORLD by Angela Lansbury. For Avant Bard, Cam Magee defines the role on her own terms and does a magnificent job from her first grand entrance to her last bow. Magee's Countess is regal, commanding, while remaining tender and capable of enveloping all of Paris in her sway. Senelick's translation gives Aurélie some delicious prose, as well. As she looks at young Pierre and calls him Fabrice, she explains, "At noon-time, all young men are called Fabrice" and she convinces you it is true. Once the Countess takes on the mission of stopping the businessmen from destroying the city, she declares they must be stopped because of their "universal commitment to demolition."

To accomplish her goal of preserving the world from greed and destruction, Aurélie enlists the help of her neighboring madwomen, and what a gallery of delightfully eccentric grande dames they are. Constance, the Madwoman of Passy (Anne Nottage), clings to the ghost of her dead dog Dickie. The Madwoman of Saint-Sulpice, Gabrielle (Tiffany Garfinkle) hears voices that emanate from her hot water bottle. Last but not least, they are joined by Joséphine, the Madwoman of la Concorde (Christine Hirrel) who waits for President McKinley. As a quartet, these ladies are confusingly entertaining. These gifted actresses are assisted by the whimsical and eclectic costume designs also by Collin Ranney.

Aurélie, however, must save France with their help and the assistance of her other supporters. The conclusion of THE MADWOMAN OF CHAILLOT plays out like it was a news report on community activism ("Occupy Chaillot!") and the importance of saving our resources and the precious commodity of individualism. By the end, "sadness departs on the wings of time" and I left the theatre with a soul fed by beautiful words and a wonderful message about life and responsibility. I was reminded of a quote attributed to Nikos Kazantakis, "A man needs a little madness, or else he never dares cut the rope and be free."

You owe it to yourself to take in a little of Countess Aurélie's madness at WSC Avant Bard.

~ follow me on Twitter @jeffwalker66

WSC Avant Bard presents THE MADWOMAN OF CHAILLOT by Jean Giraudoux

Translated by Laurence Senelick

Directed by Christopher Henley

Cam Magee as the Madwoman of Chaillot. Featuring Kim Curtis, James Finley, Tiffany Garfinkle, Tony Greenberg, Theo Hadjimichael, Jay Hardee, Christine Hirrel, Denise B. Marols, Jose Martinez, Anne Nottage, Joe Palka, Daven Ralston, Zach Roberts, and Gray West.

June 4 - 28, 2015

Gunston Arts Center Theatre Two, 2700 South Lang Street, Arlington, VA 22206

Call 703.418.4808 or click HERE

$30 - $35 all others

Thursday evenings and Saturday matinees are Pay-What-You-Can

PHOTO CREDIT: Teresa Wood/WSC Avant Bard

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