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Theater: The Madwoman Of Chaillot
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2005-11-09

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Playwright: Jean Giraudoux

At: The Artistic Home,

1420 W. Irving Park Rd.

Phone: ( 773 ) 404-1100; $20-$22

Runs through: Dec. 4

You could freeze-frame any moment in this production and have yourself an illustration in a children's book—the highly detailed kind, replete with agitated lineaments, vivid colors, and little surprises tucked away in the corners. And you could superimpose any of the actors' facial expressions onto the animated characters in an early Disney feature. And if this renders the onstage action too busy or fast-paced for audiences with slow attention-spans, it is also precisely what makes it so charming.

The premise of Jean Giraudoux' posthumous play, translated into English in 1948 by Maurice Valency, is a straightforward post-WW II caveat—corporate greedheads are bent on destroying the quiet neighborhoods of Paris by drilling for oil beneath historical sites dating back centuries. But what could have been a ponderous discourse on environmentalist issues is quickly rendered whimsical by the author's selection of four daffy old ladies as the rescuers of the ancient city, assisted by the boulevarderie—bartenders, waitresses, buskers, scavengers, foot-patrol gendarmes and tradesmen.

Their scheme to repel the threat of faceless industrial devastation is enlivened by the playfully paradoxical logic of heroines who talk to imaginary dogs and former lovers, as well as playful touches introduced by director Kathy Scambiatterra—a flirtatious sewer-steward, for example, or a financial baron so egotistical that he bows and preens to applause rightfully earned by the nearby street-juggler.

As the goddess-protector of Chaillot, Gillian Kelly dominates the stage with the dignity of a parade float, flanked by the jolly trio of Miranda Zola, Susan Burke, and Tera Dunlap—respectively, the petulant Madwoman of Passy, the flighty Madwoman of St. Sulpice, and the bluestocking Madwoman of La Concorde—dressed in gowns so foamy with froufrou that you wish the wearers were bigger so costume designer Elizabeth Ann McKnight could festoon them with more of it.

In accordance with the ensemble of multiple-skilled players that are The Artistic Home's trademark—in particular, Eustace Allen in a Harpo Marx silent turn and Ed Krystosek as a philosophical Ragpicker—James Treacy's scenic design all but shimmers with giddy delight. And try NOT to bounce in your seat to the infectious rhythms of Aaron Krister Johnson's mazurka-driven incidental music.


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