Crazy in Paris
Birdcage’s Madwoman is a French farce with modern parallels
The Madwoman of Chaillot is a fairy tale of sorts. It takes place in the 1920s in Paris, where an “evil” group of business people devise a get-rich-quick scheme to capitalize on a reserve of oil believed to be hidden beneath the city. In order to get to the oil, however, they must declare war, blow up the city and ruin all chances of happiness for the rest of humanity with their money-grubbing, selfish plans.
The street people of Paris, led by the Countess Aurelia (a.k.a. the Madwoman of Chaillot) and three other madwomen, rally together to thwart the “destruction of humanity” at the hands of the bad guys. Much philosophizing and posturing ensues on both sides of the battle, with the good guys (but of course) ultimately triumphing over the bad.
Although Oroville’s tiny Birdcage Theatre does not have the technical resources to do much with the special effects that seem to be called for, the cast and crew did do a credible job of entertaining the house.
The play got off to a slow start, as the pacing seemed to be left up to the mostly amateur cast. The long first scene, a conversation between The President (ponderously played by Terry Bartlett) and The Baroness (Hungarian actress Leila Krusch), consisted mostly of charming and heavily accented flirtation on her part and long-winded speeches about the nature of business on his. When The Prospector (Bryan Finnigan, looking like a walking corpse) joined in the conversation, the mugging and pandering nearly bordered on the absurd, leaving no doubt as to who the villain in this story was. The ensemble, however, had fun with their individual parts, to the amusement of the audience.
The heroine of the play, and of this cast as well, is the Countess Aurelia, played with grace and mirth by the lovely Kim Bertoglio. I believed her and sympathized when she explained that life gets a little challenging when, first thing in the morning, a woman must “take [her] hair from the drawer and [her] teeth from the glass” and rise to the challenge of still trying to find beauty in the world.
Also giving an impressive performance (as The Rag-Picker) was G. Graham Abernathy, whose training at the Royal Academy in London has given him timing and tools of enunciation. His speech about what is wrong with the world today, although laden with many thinly veiled metaphors for the evils of modern life, did have some very funny moments: “These days, every cabbage has its pimp! Pimps are taking over the world.”
Bertoglio was really in her element when joined in the second act by the other three Madwomen, played with comic zest by Cheryl Turnbough, Trish Young and Denise Wright. Constance’s (Turnbough) self-assurance played nicely off the bubble-headed dizziness of Gabrielle (Young) and the no-nonsense judiciousness of Josephine (Wright). Constance chastised the Countess at one point for not treating her invisible dog Dickie with respect, scolding, “If you adore animals, you shouldn’t pet them when they’re not there. It’s a form of hypocrisy!” The scene between these four ladies was definitely the highlight of the show.
The Rag-Picker’s defense of the criminal business people, during the "trial" of these characters, was also quite funny: "When I present my backside, it is etiquette to present your lips to said backside and apply them." This summed up the damnable attitude of the presidents of the company, who were subsequently found guilty of ruining life on earth for the rest of mankind and therefore disposed of. The ending of the play is pretty cheesy; but, then again, it is a fairy tale, after all. It’s not like there are any bad guys in real life trashing the world over a few measly gallons of oil, now are there?