The Mad Woman of Chaillot runs at the Phoenix until November 25. Photo submitted

Meta-theatrical approach eschews realism in The Madwoman of Chaillot at the Phoenix

Sheila Martindale

The scenery is gorgeous and evocative – take a bow Patrick du Wors; Michelle Ning Lo’s costumes are quirky and actually make sense; the actors open their mouths, and what comes out is definitely English. Here we have to stop and scratch our heads. What does some of this verbal outfall actually mean? Maybe the Director can help us, so let’s look at his program notes: I have taken a self-conscious, meta-theatrical approach to this production, eschewing realism completely for a play that operates in the realm of the fantastic. All the artifices of theatrical representation are clearly visible, and the work operates in the genre of post-modern performance as much as in comedy. Right. Clear?

Much is being made these days of Jean Giraudoux’s WWII play being an analogy for the twenty-first century’s battle over pipelines. And yes, oil is involved, and also opposition to oil wells being placed in Paris. So we have the bad guys (read oil barons now or the Nazis in occupied France) and the good guys (present day protesters or the eccentric Countess and her odd collection of friends and neighbours) and there we see the battle between good and evil. OK, I get it, but it could have been said and done in a lot less than the two and a half hours allotted by the Phoenix Theatre.

Having said all that, there are gems sparkling amid the bafflegab and the smoke and mirrors. Sarah Jean Valiquette is quite brilliant as Countess Aurelia, so we are drawn to her clear and pleasing voice, even if a lot of what she says makes only garbled sense. Nicholas Guerrerio is suitably uncaring as the President (of some high-powered corporation) – he and his buddies have very dramatic huddles, using the wheeled chairs of the outdoor patio to great advantage.

There is a Dante-like scenario at the end of the play, when we watch all the greedy and nasty characters descend into what looks like Hell, and a sort of poetic justice reigns. It should be noted that all the actions are spot-on and well-timed on this busy stage.

It is true that these productions at UVic are student-driven, and it should be noted that they are extremely professional and well-executed. One always has to admire the skill with which the drama department manages the challenging plays they choose. One might only wish some of them were a bit more down-to-earth and comprehensible.

The Madwoman of Chaillot runs at the Phoenix until November 25. If you have not yet ordered your season’s tickets, you can turn in your stub from this performance against the amazingly low price of a subscription. Call 250-721-8000.

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