The Madwoman of Chaillot by Jean Giraudoux, Performed by Gordon College 2016 Directed by Norman Jones
Review by Lara Fury
Molly Sidel as Countess, Jessica Richmond as Constance, Theresa Sterling as Gabrielle
Copyright Gordon College
“Come with me, and you’ll be, in a world of pre imagination.” Gordon College’s production of Jean Giraudoux’s The Madwoman of Chaillot begins with the familiar notes of the song made famous by Gene Wilder in Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory. The character singing is not yet introduced to us, so we are fully at his mercy, brought through his dulcet tones directly into this world of street performers, carefree cafe patrons, businessmen, police officers, and madwomen.
Norman Jones, director of this production, has directed nearly fifty plays at Gordon, and as a Salem, Ma resident, should be familiar for his work founding the History Alive program which produces Cry Innocent, as well as for his numerous performances as Nathaniel Hawthorne. Jones’ choice of play for his students this spring is an extremely brave one, and nearly a mirror image of today’s political climate. References in the play to a bomb in Paris hit nerves in the audience that are still raw from these past few years of terrorist attacks in France, while the hatred of the rich, and the blame heaped upon them for nearly every problem we currently face, resonates strongly.
The Madwoman of Chaillot is a complex production, full of challenges for a cast that includes several first time or second time only performers. Though the set is impressive, the glowing yellows and greens of a cafe that becomes a madwoman’s estate, it does not distract, and serves as a stately backdrop for the characters that somehow manage to outshine its color. With a cast of nearly two dozen, it would be easy to lose track of who was who, but a stunning array of costumes and personality quirks allows each and every one to leave a vivid impression on the audience. The story is both hilarious and poignant, playing your emotions like a fiddle with its lovely dichotomy.
We are taken through a ludicrous concept of plot as though it were completely reasonable, which serves as a parallel for our title character, the Madwoman herself, who is masterfully played by Molly Sidell, easily shouldering what could be a cumbersome role for a student actor. An “evil” cadre of businessmen, who do not even understand their own business themselves, ally with a bizarre Texan stereotype prospector, who claims to have discovered oil under the city of Paris. Armed only with knowledge and allied with madness, the characters take it upon themselves to hold the businessmen accountable for all the world’s evil, and give them a trial in absentia, so that they may be punished.
Representing the men with the money is their polar opposite, a humble ragpicker, asked to portray the men he despises, he plays the role of evil tycoon to the hilt and with vicious glee. His responses to the questioning of the unwashed masses is a riveting tennis match of accusation and justification, where the show’s surprising stand out actor, Drew Cleveland, commands the stage with a presence that is sudden and startling. If we as an audience had any sympathy left for the rich and the powerful, he tears it to shreds with his conviction in showing them as pure, unadulterated evil.
In a time when several of the current forerunner’s for President of the United States are priding themselves as free from the power of the big bank, Giraudoux’s classic hits home in illustrating how easily that fear of those in power can be turned to power against them. It is a story that will surely resonate with the audience as the rest of the election cycle draws us back to that very same theme. A clear case of either art imitating life, or life imitating art.
The production ran from April 8th through the 17th and enjoyed many sold out performances. It would easily do well with a revival after finishing its run, as the message will stay fresh and relevant, and the student actors will only improve with time. A very enjoyable show, and a thought provoking cornucopia of unexpected truths from the mouth of Madness.