BLOOMFIELD, NJ — The Bloomfield High School Thespian Society will present Jean Giraudoux’s satirical fantasy, “The Madwoman of Chaillot,” on Nov. 21, 22 and 23, at 7 p.m., in the school Auditorium. The show is directed and produced by BHS theater instructor Brandon Doemling.
Written in 1943 and first produced in 1945, the play tells the story of the eccentric Countess Aurelie, who learns of a nefarious scheme by corrupt businessmen to dig up her beloved Parisian district of Chaillot in their quest for petroleum. In response, she gathers together madwomen from other Parisian districts and stages a mock trial with the good-natured Ragpicker, as defendant, filling in for the corrupt businessmen. Justice is reached with a verdict of art and beauty triumphing over greed and corruption.
At a recent rehearsal, students playing the characters of two madwomen spoke about their characters and the play. Senior Elizabeth Nucci plays the role of Madame Constance; senior Shannon Bretz is Madame Josephine; sophomore Megan Moynahan is Mademoiselle Gabrielle and junior Emma Morse is Ragpicker.
Elizabeth said Madam Constance is wise, having seen much of the real world, but a little crazy.
“She has a dog named Dickie,” she said. “He’s passed away, but she pretends he’s still alive. Constance is not a happy person. She’s seen a shift in the world where people have become corrupt. But when she’s in a room, she has a presence: she’s confident and assertive. That’s what I love most about her.”
Shannon said her character, Madame Josephine, is the smartest of the madwomen and a suffragette. In order to develop their characters, all the students had to research France during the mid-1940s.
“We had to look up the history and the money amounts and the different districts of Paris,” she said, adding, “There’s still a suffragette movement in France at this time.”
“It’s the job of the actor,” Elizabeth interjected.
“And you have to know what your lines mean,” Shannon continued. “I have lines in Latin. I say ‘De minimis non curat lex.’ That means ‘the law does not care about the smallest things.’ Madame Josephine said there’s no risk about a trial. She has twisted ideas about the law.”
Megan said her character, Mademoiselle Gabrielle, is a virgin.
“That’s a very big character trait of hers,” Megan said. “She views men from a distance. The Countess Aurelie tells her that all men are terrible. I tried to base my character on archetypal princesses. Snow White is the biggest one, which is weird because love happens to her, she doesn’t go looking for it.”
Other characters Megan studied for her role were Amy March in “Little Women” and Cosette in “Les Miserables.”
Emma said her character, Ragpicker, is interesting.
“She makes her living going through the dumps. The whole world views the vagabonds as slimy people, but they show generosity,” she said. “The Ragpicker prides herself on being observant because she goes through people’s garbage. You can tell a lot about someone from what they throw away.”
Ragpicker was a role meant for a male, Emma said, and there is a drastic difference between how a female plays a male role and how a male would play it. She said Ragpicker, although not a corrupt person, has to portray one in the trial.
“I didn’t base my character on anyone,” Emma said. “I dissected the script.”
Doemling said the play has close to 20 featured roles.
“This is a great play for giving our young thespians a chance to develop and showcase their talents,” he said. “Plus, despite being first performed almost 75 years ago, the issues and conflicts in the story resonate in our world today. The tension between preserving a living environment and the interests of business is very contemporary.”
Members of the production’s creative and production team are: set designer Ralph Turano, lighting designer Nicholas Von Hagel, costume designer Katherine Martinez and props person Bret Petrick.