Spotlight: The Balcony

Claire Avitabile

Jean Genet's 1957 absurdist drama takes place in a specialized brothel, where men pay to live out fantasies of power and prestige. There's a mad would-be bishop (Bow Ludwig), in love with his own reflection and a pain in the ass to Madame Irma (Lina Wiksten, holding things together for much of the night). Next is the aspiring judge (Stephen Houtz), an S&M weirdo and hardcore punishment fetishist (Houtz, when his character is close to satisfaction, says, "I'm almost happy!"). Finally there's a fantasy general (Zach Morgan) who, like his two predecessors, is completely wrapped up in the notion of death locking in and cementing the idealized self-image they so doggedly pursue. The action moves back and forth across the wide and deep stage in this Nightpath Theatre Company production, and Genet's instruction that his three fantasists act on stilts is addressed by deployment of exaggerated platform shoes. In the second act a revolution has bloomed and a new order has been established, with Irma as Queen and her beau The Chief of Police (Jim Taylor, frequently very funny) having emerged as hero for the new day. Director Maggie Scanlon's cast varies in age and experience, and while some performances are uneven, and things drift at times, the show is approached with an appropriately headlong and uninhibited spirit. Finally the Chief finds satisfaction when his one unscratched itch is addressed--someone shows up at the brothel wanting to be him (Taylor unleashes a great expression of absurd delight, like Buzz Lightyear learning that his girlfriend is into sex toys). The Balcony, in one form, ran a full four hours. This production clocks in at two, making plenty of cuts without losing the dark sarcasm of Irma's "sober ceremonies," or the concept of the subsumed death wish beneath modern times. The show is a primal scream at the notion of taking anything in society at face value, or having faith in the veracity of its institutions and the ends they claim to support. Corruption and insanity are rendered unevenly, then, but rendered in full.

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