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

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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Blue Bridge Theatre
Stratford star teams up with Blue Bridge Theatre

A New Take on a Perennial Favourite

The COVID-19 pandemic had an effect on film production on central and north Vancouver Island, says Vancouver Island North Film Commission. Pictured here, production of TV series Resident Alien in Ladysmith earlier this year. (Black Press file)
Film commissioner says COVID-19 cost central Island $6 million in economic activity

Jurassic World: Dominion, Chesapeake Shores among productions halted due to pandemic, says INFilm

Chelsey Moore’s character Chloe in the upcoming virtual reality game Altdeus: Beyond Chronos. Screengrab
Vancouver Island actress finds success in a virtual world

Black Creek’s Chelsey Moore lends her voice to a new video game set for release in December

Ceramic artist Darrel Hancock working on a clay jug in his home studio in Qualicum Beach. (Submitted photo)
Qualicum Beach potter Darrel Hancock celebrates 40 years in business

‘It’s wonderful to do what you love and make a living at it’

Artist Daniel Cline discusses his sculpture, Harmony Humpbacks, during the June 20 walking tour of Oak Bay’s 2019 ArtsAlive sculptures. Harmony Humpbacks was purchased by Oak Bay as the 2019 people’s choice winner and is permanently installed at the Beach Drive entrance to Willows Park. (Kevin Murdoch Photo)
Influx of donated art a ‘fantastic problem to have,’ says Oak Bay mayor

Oak Bay goes from zero to 10 permanent art pieces since 2015

Stephen Laidlaw, prepator with Nanaimo Art Gallery, hangs a photograph of Anna Wong, a B.C. print maker whose works are on display at the gallery. The exhibit opens Friday, Dec. 4, and runs until Feb. 7. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Nanaimo Art Gallery exhibit explores life work of overlooked B.C. printmaker

‘Anna Wong: Traveller on Two Roads’ features more than 70 art works and personal belongings

Nanaimo rappers Konfidential and Teus released their first joint album, <em>The Invasion</em>. (Photo courtesy Raymond Knight)
Nanaimo rappers Konfidential and Teus release first joint album

Duo plan elaborate live-streamed CD release for ‘The Invasion’

Next month Nanaimo musician Spencer Hiemstra releases his solo debut album, ‘Wildlife.’ (Photo submitted)
Nanaimo musician Spencer Hiemstra releases solo debut album

New record ‘Wildlife’ about taking chances and going through changes

Dover Bay Secondary School student Victoria Hathfield’s poem <em>Dear Santa</em> appears in<em> Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas is in the Air</em>. (Photo courtesy Darren Lee)
Nanaimo high schooler has first poem published in ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’

Victoria Hathfield’s ‘Dear Santa’ appears in new Christmas-themed edition of anthology series

Nanaimo graphic designer Amy Pye has written and illustrated her first children’s book, <em>G is for Grizzly Bear: A Canadian Alphabet</em>. (Photo courtesy Amy Pye)
Nanaimo graphic designer releases first children’s book

Amy Pye teaches the Canadian alphabet in ‘G is for Grizzly Bear’

The Vancouver Island Symphony’s Back Row Brass Quintet – including trumpeter Mark D’Angelo, tuba player Nick Atkinson and French horn player Karen Hough (from left) – were scheduled to tour the Nanaimo area with Christmas Under the Big Tent, but the concert series has now been cancelled. (Photo courtesy HA Photography)
Symphony brass quintet’s Christmas concert series cancelled

Performances were to happen at venues in Parksville and Lantzville next month

The Sheringham Point Lighthouse, near Shirley. (Contributed - Lee-Ann Ruttan)
New book shines a light on Sheringham Point Lighthouse

Publication examines history, lightkeepers, and volunteer society

Victoria-based guitarist Eric Harper performs at the Port Theatre on Nov. 27. (Photo credit Tatum Duryba)
Classical guitarist to play at the Port Theatre

Eric Harper to play new songs composed during the pandemic

Most Read