Chicago Theatre Review
If Gothic Theatre Is Your Thing
Trap Door Theatre’s The Balcony
At The Trap Door Theatre’s production of The Balcony, you are greeted by two young women in Victorian style undergarments and corsets. They check your reservation and you are guided into the small theatre space by another woman with a red brazier underneath her suit jacket and pencil skirt. In the space, a woman in dark but elegant late 18th century dress paces the space and often stops and stares intently at an invisible disturbance just behind you. This is a wonderful start to this production, creating the beautiful but strange and disturbing tone that is carried throughout the play. The Balcony is about the characters at a brothel during the final moments of a revolution. Jean Genet, who was a controversial French playwright of the first have of the 19th century, originally wrote the play. This production was translated by Bernard Frechtman and directed by Max Truax.
The text plays heavily on allegorical figures and metaphord. At the center of the play is the power of an image. When hiding behind the image of judge, bishop, or general, men can feel fulfilled and exert power. Few of the men in this play seem to be truly satisfied until they are immortalized as the type of image other men play out in their bedroom fantasies. The women, on the other hand, find their power in inducing these fantasies. The women in this play are strong and manipulative in their abilities to create illusion. Even to the point of being the icon of a revolution.
The performances are all very strong throughout this production. Madame Irma, played by Nicole Wiesner, delivers a wonderfully complex and nuanced performance as the owner of the brothel. She skillfully expresses the fear and danger Irma is in during the revolution as someone who caters to the upper class, while still remaining in control of her girls as long as she can. Wiesner the actress melts away as Madame Irma walks the stage, and only from time to time did I marvel that there was a normal young woman under the white face makeup. All the actors deliver wonderful performances, but admittedly it is hard to focus on some of the acting with a barely clothed man or woman a few feet in front of you. The production is not safe to bring children to and you might want to think twice about taking your conservative grandmother. There is technically no full nudity, but the final scene comes about as close as you can get. Also, there are certainly sexual and violent moments. Trap Door Theatre is generally not for the squeamish theatre goer and The Balcony is no exception.
There is a very interesting gripping sound design even before the show begins. The designer, Danny Rockett, really heights the terror of the revolution and the eeriness of each moment with strange noises that don’t really feel like they belong in a period piece. Of course, this isn’t strictly a period piece. Rockett’s sound design stood out in particular, but the entire production helped to maintain the otherworldly feeling of this production. Lighting designer Richard Norwood created some stunning tableaus for such a small space. The makeup and costumes, done by Zsófia Ötvös and Rachel Sypniewski respectively, really enriched characters and took steps to further the symbolic themes of the show. And the set, simple but very effective, was designed by Joanna Iwanicki. And those corseted girls that greeted me at the entrance were also actresses in the production. Everything was used efficiently to execute this play.
The only thing that I wasn’t taken with was the text. This dark, sexual play was full of elaborate symbolism and poetic language. I understood the essence of what was happening, but much of the subtext went over my head. The play and the production were also a little bit too graphic and sexual for me. You really should be prepared for what you’re seeing. Trap Door is devoted to unearthing obscure works, many of them European, and staging them. They recently had a tour through Romania and Hungary, which seemed well received. But The Balcony is nowhere near a lighthearted outing to the theatre and the subject matter is dense enough to get lost in. If gothic horror type theatre is what you’re interested in, or you’re set on trying something completely different, please enjoy the quality of The Balcony. But just remember I warned you.
Reviewed by Clare Kosinski
Trap Door Presents The Balcony
Playing September 5 – Octorber 12 at Trap Door Theatre, 1655 West Courtland Ave, Chicago, IL.
Tickets are available by calling 773.384.0494 or visiting www.trapdoortheatre.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions may be found at www.theatreinchicago.com.