A cabal of super-wealthy corporate execs conspire to drill for oil deep under the cafés and museums and monuments of Paris, environmental consequences be damned, in Jean Giraudoux’s The Madwoman Of Chaillot, the latest bit of theatrical alchemy from A Noise Within.

If the above scenario sounds rather too present-day for “California’s Home For The Classics,” think again.

La Folle de Chaillot was written at the height of the Nazi occupation of Paris, making it not only vintage enough at age seventy-four to run in rep with Dickens’s A Tale Of Two Cities and Shaw’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession, but as topical a play as ANW has staged in its quarter-century of bringing classic theater to contemporary audiences.

Combining biting satire and absurdist whimsy, The Madwoman Of Chaillot pits the titular folle, aka The Countess Aurelia (Deborah Strang), against four of Paris’s richest and most powerful one-percenters—Apollo Dukakis’s Baron, Wesley Mann’s President, Austin Nimnicht’s Broker, and Armin Shimerman’s Prospector—in a fight for the very life of the City Of Light she calls home.

Joining her in battle are a trio of fellow Madwomen and assorted poets, musicians, artists, and vagabonds unwilling to see oil derricks rise up in gardens where almond trees have stood for centuries, and if the flunky hired to do a bit of bombing for the moguls ends up falling for the neighborhood bistro’s comeliest waitress instead, well they don’t call Paris the City Of Love for nothing.

Giraudoux’s play (adapted by Maurice Valency) can drag a bit at times (and perhaps get a bit too whimsical and absurdist for more straightforward tastes), but if there’s anyone to ensure maximum A Noise Within magic, it’s director Stephanie Shroyer, her all-around splendid cast of resident-and-guest artists, and an equally sensational production design team.

ANW treasure Strang invests the ever so eccentric Countess Aurelia with a zest for life that proves infectious, her tea party with fellow nutjobs Mesdames Constance, Gabrielle, and Josephine (Susan Angelo, Jill Hill, and Veralyn Jones at their most delicious) earning some of the evening’s biggest laughs as the threesome frolic with Madame Constance’s high-spirited lap dog (who’s invisible having passed years ago), Madame Gabrielle chats with invisible friends, and Madame Josephine expounds on matters of the jurisprudence (accurately or not, who can tell).

Dukakis, Mann, Nimnicht, and Shimerman have great fun being dastardly, while café habitués Angelo (Paulette), Stirling Bradley (The Policeman), Hill (Therese), Jay Lee (The Deaf Mute), Leslie Lank (Irma), Taleen Shrikian (The Flower Girl), Richy Storrs (The Street Singer), Michael Sturgis (The Waiter), George Villas (The Rag Picker), and Stephen Weingartner (The Little Man) add finely delineated bits of local color throughout. (Special snaps to guitarist-singer-composer Storrs for doing all three and to Lee and Lank for lines expressively signed in ASL.)

ANW staple Goldstein (in dashing leading man mode) and the exquisite, russet-haired Lank make for a charming pair of young lovers, Jones gender bends quite credibly as Dr. Jadin, and Weingartner adds a couple more terrific cameos (Sergeant and Sewer Man) to his evening’s medley of roles.

Most memorably among featured players, Villas makes for a magnetic Rag Picker, who assumes major importance when the Madwomen make plans to put the greedy businessmen on trial.

As for the results of said trial, suffice it to say that director’s Shroyer’s manner of disposing of its defendants and their cohorts showcases both her ingenuity and her choreographic gifts as well as the pitch-perfect classical musical choices that highlight Jeff Gardner’s inspired sound design.

Angelo Balogh Calin’s vibrantly hued costumes (a mix of late-19th and mid-20th century styles) and her picturesque two-story set give WWII-era Paris a romantic glow, especially under Ken Booth’s vivid lighting design, with Liz Sowles’s makeup and wigs (both realistic and fanciful) and Esther Fuentes’s period props completing another winning ANW production design.

Marcedes L. Clanton is stage manager and Catherine Lee is assistant stage manager. Briana Pattillo is assistant lighting designer. Scenic construction is by Sets to Go. Sets to Go and Dani Maupin are scenic painters.

It’s taken A Noise Within a quarter-century to add Jean Giraudoux’s The Madwoman Of Chaillot to their long list of classics brought to contemporary life. Their timing (and the production they have mounted) could hardly be better.

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A Noise Within, 3352 East Foothill Blvd, Pasadena.

–Steven Stanley
September 23, 2017
Photos: Craig Schwartz

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