Members of the cast of "The Balcony," by Jean Genet, now playing at Nimbus Theatre
The following are excerpts from reviews of the show The Balcony, playing at Nimbus Theatre in Minneapolis through March 6. Click on the links to read the full reviews.
A sign posted at the entry to the house warns: "Please be aware this show contains cigar smoke, gunshots, loud explosions, vulgar language, adult situations, and whips." The Balcony delivers faithfully on each, and in nimbus artistic director Josh Cragun's hands, it provides a delightful yet thought-provoking evening of entertainment.
The play, by French novelist, poet and activist Jean Genet, was first produced in London in 1957 and has been a favorite among directors ever since. It won an Obie for Genet in 1960 after its American premiere in New York. The action plays out in an upscale brothel run by Madame Irma (a proud and business-like Heidi Berg). As a bloody revolution rages outside, we are introduced to power archetypes in the form of a bishop (Jeffery Goodson), a judge (Eric Ringham) and a general (Bud Prescott) who have come to Irma's to play out their fantasies. But they are perhaps not surprisingly reluctant when the opportunity to play these same roles in the real world arises after their corresponding societal equivalents are killed in the revolution.
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Key supporting roles in the well-matched cast are the brothel staff, including MaryLynn Mennicke, Brian Hesser, Kate Gunther, and Katherine Moeller. All bring memorable performances. Also of note is Mason Mahoney as the dashing cigar-chomping Chief of Police and Erin Denman as Chantal, a former prostitute who has left the brothel to become a sort of living icon of the revolution...
...I should caution that run time is on the high end at just over three hours with one intermission, but the moments my attention wavered were spread out in such a way that I still felt thoroughly engaged from end to end.
Considering what has happened in Egypt in the last two weeks, along with the general instability in the Middle East, and the political unrest in neighboring Wisconsin, it's certainly prescient of Nimbus to tackle Jean Genet's The Balcony as the inaugural piece in the company's new northeast Minneapolis space.
Then again, reducing this 20th-century epic about revolutions and the slippery nature of our societal icons to mere politics is really doing the work a disservice. The politics behind the ongoing revolutions in the play's nameless city are meaningless--both the establishment and the revolutionaries talk mainly in metaphors. Instead, the idea of acting out roles in society sits front and center.
Though the decades have stripped away much of the play's transgressive energy--the public actions of real heads of the establishment are far worse than anything presented here--Genet's work still plays with the mind in thrilling ways, and despite an uneven set of performances, the Nimbus Production plays off that with real gusto.
Genet's script plays with audience expectations throughout, presenting plays-within-plays, including lengthy metaphor-driven discussions on the nature of the iconic figures of the state and revolutionaries driven by a desire for "reality" who take on the same style of meta characters as the rest.
In other words, this isn't an easy play to produce or to watch. Director Josh Cragun and the company reward audience with a production that feels both playful and insightful. But sometimes the acting loses the first element, as moments full of absurdity fall flat. The actors also seem to be unsure of the acoustics of the brand-new space, which can make it hard to understand all of their dialogue sometimes.
That aside, the whole production, featuring a terrific set by Zach Morgan and some pretty amazing costumes from Lisa Conley, carries plenty of energy and insight.
The woman next to me sighed throughout the first half of Jean Genet's "The Balcony" on Saturday at Nimbus Theatre in Minneapolis. When she and a few others left at intermission, they reduced the audience to a number roughly equal to the 16-member cast.
Welcome to the world of small theater, where budgets are micro, audiences may or may not show up, and directors sometimes seem hell-bent on presenting "difficult" work that may alienate even their hard-core partisans...
There is value in simply getting to see a live production of "The Balcony," the philosophically hazy, politically unpredictable play that caused cultural dust-ups at openings in London (1957), Paris (1960) and the United States (1960). So, congrats to director Josh Cragun for undertaking it, and throwing himself and his team into it. Their commitment is laudable.
The result is far from successful, however, with acting that varies from very good to wooden. For every bit of intellectual stimulation and dramatic poetry, there is an equal amount of tedium and confusion. It makes three hours and 15 minutes seem like four.
...Cragun and crew throw themselves into this tough dramatic nut (even Genet called it "thick," "heavy" and "idiotic"). From the three-level set -- designed by Zach Morgan in the theater's new space -- to the sound design, costuming and lighting, the message is: Storm the bordello and full speed ahead.
So, have you seen "The Balcony?" If so, what did you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section.