Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

‘The Madwoman of Chaillot’ is timeless and thoughtful

This past week, the Augustana College Theater Department has been hard at work bringing comedic absurdism to campus through its performance of The Madwoman of Chaillot, directed by Jeff Coussens.
The Madwoman of Chaillot is a French work of comedy written by Jean Giraudoux in 1943. During this era, Paris was under Nazi occupation, and the power of corporate greed had been on the rise in the western world for some time. While the story does not explicitly reference any aspects of this historical context directly, The Madwoman of Chaillot cleverly demonstrates concerns and observations about our changing world that are still relevant today—and more importantly, the show is just plain funny.
The Madwoman of Chaillot tells the moving yet ridiculous tale of an elderly French countess who discovers that her previously joyful Paris has been filled instead with greed and sadness by money-worshipping businessmen from another planet. From there, the show takes the audience on a fairytale-like journey as the countess works to restore happiness to her beloved Paris, all the while making us laugh as much as think.
Throughout the show, The Madwoman of Chaillot forces you to suspend your own understanding of logic and sanity in a way that brings to mind the work of absurdist playwrights such as Eugène Ionesco. The incredible talent displayed by all of the cast members involved, combined with thoughtful set and costume design, lulls you into an almost dreamlike state that allows the viewer to truly appreciate the play’s jokes and lessons in all their absurdity.
Perhaps the most impressive aspects of the performance, in my opinion, is its ability to be both historically significant and timelessly topical. The story’s themes may have been generated in a very different environment than the one in which we view it today, but I think it still has a lot to teach us about modern society.
One of the play’s more prominent themes concerns the impact that big business and capitalism have had on the world, something that is still very much an issue—arguably more so today than in the past. As long as they have existed, corporations have consistently posed a threat to the balance that is inherently necessary for any democracy. Additionally, people feel threatened by their seeming lack of humanity, a fear which is highlighted in The Madwoman of Chaillot through its inhuman depiction of the antagonistic oil barons. This lack of trust between the people and big business has persisted throughout the ages and will undoubtedly continue to be a problem for years to come. Giraudoux has masterfully captured fundamental conflicts and ideas such as this through his writing, and Augustana’s interpretation of the play provides it with a powerful transition into the twenty-first century.

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‘The Madwoman of Chaillot’ is timeless and thoughtful