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performance notes The Balcony Jean Genet Directed by JoAnne Akalaitis American Repertory Theatre (Cambridge) Arthur Holmberg Sex, Jean Genet seems to be telling us in The Balcony, Is a willing suspension of disbelief, and over and over again in his masterpiece he dramatizes the theatricality of sex, politics, and God. JoAnne Akalaitis's production at the American Repertory Theatre captures this sense of theatre as the basis for all human interaction, and many of the individual scenes dazzle in their cunning elaboration of metatheatrical Icons. Whereas Genet's play takes place nowhere and everywhere, Akalaitis locates the action in a Central American Republic In the grips of a revolutionary convulsion. As spectators trickle into the auditorium, peons salsa to the rhythms of Ruben Blades in a tumble-down, shell-shocked barrio that spills off the stage into the audience. Marcos (Tim McDonough), the revolutionary leader and a dead-ringer for Che Guevara, takes all In-audience and pueblo-with an impassive glare. At his signal a band of masked terrorists dump a fat bourgeois into a gunny sack, and before the play proper begins Akalaitis has given us a visual image of the revolutionary as carnival . Some of the best scenes in her production deal with the revolutionaries . Scene Six, in which Marcos barters with Roger for the soul of Chantal, takes place in total darkness interrupted by flashlights nervously flicked on and off. The conspirational whispers, the dim outlines of terrorists crouching all over the stage, the bare bodies of Roger and Chantal kissing each other in the moment of betrayal-all these hints of flesh and danger charge the scene with an eerie, dream-like eroticism. Akalaitis outdoes herself In the slow-motion tableau of the uprising (scene eight). As peasants, beating kettles and shaking fists, roll across the stage. Chantal, transformed from whore to saint, soars over them into a red 43 sky-Liberty leading the people. She spurs them on with an exalted revolutionary march composed by Blades until a bullet fired by the authorities cuts her down. Harsh white lights beam through the auditorium. The teemIng , huddled mass of humanity falls to the ground and grovels before Madame Irma (Joan Macintosh) who, masquerading as the Queen, sweeps to center stage surrounded by a flag-waving entourage of state: bishop, general, judge. The ground they stand on becomes pedestals, raising them to the heights and transubstantiating mere mortals into eternal icons of power. Other scenes in Madame Irma's house of sexual illusions hover in the imagination . As the stage turns,various chambers of pleasure-Madame Irma calls them studios-pass into view, teasing us with glimpses into the private fantasies men pay to act out. In a Las Vegas motel room, a debutante in a 50s prom gown vacuums a rug with a black bag over her head. A quiet businessman in a grey flannel suit watches two lesbians make out on a chaise lounge. In scene four a chubby midget in sportsjacket and skirt does the heeble jeebles each time a dominatrix in G-string and chin brace lashes him. In the corner of the room, two masked men jimjam in unison with him. Throughout the production the choreography by Johanna Boyce is spectacular . If Scene Five is one of the longest and potentially driest patches of exposition in modern drama, Akalaitis breaks up the monotony by having N Carmen and Irma shimmy through a sensuous tango as they wade through the realms of verbiage. Brevity is not one of Genet's virtues, and Akalaitis's visual imagination made the scene interesting while dramatizing the intimacy between Madame Irma and her favorite girl. The tango also dramatized Genet's belief that even intimacy is a performance. Still, in many ways the production seems over-produced, under-directed, and out of touch with the seriousness of Genet's purpose. The first three scenes-some of the most vital dramatic writing of our century-point to much of what went wrong. From the start, the director presents the three symbols of power-bishop, judge, general-as jokes. The ridiculous costumes, the cartoon-strip characterizations, the high camp mix of Fredericks of Hollywood and black leather jock...


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pp. 43-46
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