November 9th, 2017
Review by Shayli Robinson, Showbill.ca Staff Writer
Brought to life by senior theatre students from the University of Victoria, Jean Giraudoux’s The Madwoman of Chaillot is a cautionary tale of good vs. evil that proves its relevance almost 75 years after being written.
Set in Paris’ neighbourhood of Chaillot during the Second World War, Countess Aurelia (Sarah Jean Valiquette), our titular madwoman, is an eccentric, aging optimist whose rose-tinted glasses came off when she discovered, thanks to Pierre (Douglas Peerless), that a string of corrupt corporate executives – The Baron (Stephen Dopp), The Broker (Evan Coates), The President (Nicholas Guerreiro), and The Prospector (Chase Hiebert) – are planning to tear up her beloved city in pursuit of oil. Refusing to allow such destruction, the countess recruits the aid of her fellow outcasts: the (politically correct in the ‘40s) Deaf-Mute (Joy Peters), Flower Girl (Sophie Chappell), Irma (Emma Grabinsky), Ragpicker (Mary Van Den Bossche), Sergeant (Ted Angelo Ngkaion), Sewer Man (Brendan Elwell), Street Singer (Ciaran Volke), and Waiter (Nathan Patterson); and her just-as-mad friends, Constance (Rachel Myers), Gabrielle (Taryn Yoneda), and Josephine (Lucky Sharples); to put an end to the executives’ evil plan and save Paris.
Directed by Conrad Alexandrowicz, the play is loaded with enticing wit and is brought to “justice” by the studious cast, who don’t stumble through impressive vocal projection and fluid movement across the stage – so well-rehearsed that it’s not all that noticeable that some actors catch chairs being tossed to them by the crew until you realize an extra seat had appeared. The only flaw that stands out comes to accents: they attempt to come out with the odd French word here and there and are not consistent in skill.
As it was written in 1943, it comes as no surprise that the evil corporate executives are at times stand-ins for Nazis, which we are delightfully reminded of with subtle gestures and references throughout the show. Being performed in 2017, though – especially in Victoria, BC – it is a great allusion to the energy and oil projects proposed to pass through our province that are oft-viewed as evil and disastrous, particularly by our elderly, quirky, and whimsical fellow citizens.
The symbolism doesn’t stop there, thanks to costume designer Michelle Ning Lo – the characters are dressed in accordance with the way they’re meant to be perceived: expensive and brand-new looking black and white suits for the executives, old, worn, and plain clothes with small bursts of a pastel tie-dye rainbow for the outcasts, and sincerely Alice in Wonderland-esque pieces for the madwomen. The set (Patrick Du Wors) is beautifully and elegantly made, looking truly Parisian.
The Madwoman of Chaillot is an entertaining, thoughtful show that will leave you seriously pondering the persecution of evil and the fate of British Columbia.