The Saint Jean Players took on quite a challenge when it chose to tackle the time-honored Jean Giraudoux farce, The Madwoman of Chaillot. While the production was at times unfocused, the company approached the material with admirable spirit and energy.
Giraudoux wrote the play during the German occupation of Paris in the early 1940s. The plot concerns a group of greedy prospectors and civic leaders who plan to destroy an idyllic French town in search of oil, and the strong-willed woman who responds to their rash scheme with one of her own.
The play, ably adapted by Maurice Valency, is Giraudoux's way of offering some hope to anyone faced with violence and oppression. With allusions to politicians, police, and the press, the socially conscious piece is a fine fable for war-torn times. Its black-and-white portrayal of the citizens of Chaillot as either caring or kind or greedy and selfish makes for a well-intentioned morality tale, with the title character appearing as the savior of the masses.
The Saint Jean Players did their best to give a personal touch to the preachy play. The direction by Bryan McHaffey made full use of the spacious auditorium venue and incorporated the able ensemble in much of the action. However, the decision to stage most of the scenes on the floor in front of the stage caused sightline problems and a consistent lack of focus. Choreographer Mary Anne Gruen had better luck with a tender dance sequence during the play's denouement.
The high school setting also didn't allow for much in the way of technical support, although Greg Guiteras and M. Giarratano gave a valiant effort with their artistic set design for Act One. Costumes by M.C. Waldrep and Diane Piro were period-friendly, except for a few glaring choices such as a pair of tennis sneakers. Waldrep also handled the uncomplicated lighting.
Fortunately, the acting was involving enough to keep the audience interested throughout. Almost every member of the large ensemble was given a moment to shine. Elise Rovinsky was particularly effervescent and engaging as the "Madwoman," portraying perhaps the most normal one of all. Christopher Johnson was impressive as the Prospector, John Short and Richard Ainsley sufficiently cynical as his co-conspirators. Antonia Barba provided a fetching, fervent flair as the romantic ingenue, and Salvatore Brienik proved a handsome object of her affections. Other standouts included Michal G. Charpenter as the attentive Waiter, Arthur Gruen and Delio Pacifico as the inquiring Policemen, and Michael Blake as a philosophical Ragpicker. Rounding out the cast were Louis Wernick, Joann Breslin, Pam Robbins, Joanna Murphy, Cindy Dumestre, Steven Ackerman, Wiliam Blackard, Charlie Ward, Susan Horowitz, Tom Nondorf, Sharon O'Neal, Pauline Walsh, Virgil Katharine Doyle, M.C. Waldrep, and Mary Anne Gruen.
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Copyright 2002 Elias Stimac