Characters turned stupid in ‘Chaillot’

Maurice Valency’s adaptation of Jean Giraudoux’s 1948 “The Madwoman of Chaillot” is one funny play, and that’s why it’s so painful to be so bored by the College of Southern Nevada’s production.

Giraudoux’s plot is a simple, satiric whimsy. Nasty businessmen who think only about profit want to ruin an ailing Paris by drilling for oil beneath the streets. An eccentric woman and her dowdy friends — by all appearances too simple-minded to battle the capitalistic geniuses — devise a scheme that does in the bad guys. The air suddenly turns pure, the sky becomes clear and life is beautiful again.

The joy of this stylized script is in its witty dialogue and surprising characters, but obviously, when you direct it, you can’t take it too seriously. The play suffocates if handled heavily.

Doug Baker has never shown a capacity for humanizing “classical” works. He treats the material so reverentially that it loses all lightness. We can’t be entertained by these loony characters, because Baker has exaggerated their looniness so broadly that they’ve become stupid. The script is easy to follow, but here, the actors’ vocal shadings are so monotonous, robotic and/or high-pitched that it’s difficult to stay awake, let alone understand anything.

In the title role, Jennifer Jacovelli recites her lines with one-note niceness. It reveals nothing about this woman’s personality. But it’s difficult to blame the actors when their director has no clue how to help them.

A few of the 27 cast members manage to break through the silliness. Alex Olson is smooth and unaffected as the young, despairing Pierre. Sean Cancellieri — with his tattered jacket, Mad Hatter tophat and oversized, overcolored handkerchiefs — makes for an intriguing, poetic ragpicker. When he speaks of the old, beautiful days of Paris, you can see in his eyes the wonder of his vision. And Thomas Nasarro makes an impression in the small role of a waiter. His posture and attitude suggest a man who takes pride in his work. He makes himself mentally look the role.

But this production is not “sittable.” Typical of the evening’s ineptness was the visit the audience had during opening-night intermission. The star of the show came into the auditorium and waved to an acquaintance. Memo to Ms. Jacovelli: that sort of thing is simply not done in the civilized world.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at DelValle@aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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