The line between sanity and insanity may not always be as clear-cut as it sometimes appears. Jean Girauodoux's play The Madwoman of Chaillot deals with this issue - and many others - head on. Though Giraudoux's star shines enough on its own, there are three others burning more brightly still at the new production at the Neighborhood Playhouse.
Anne Jackson stars as the play's title character, Madame Aurelia, who is determined to restore beauty and happiness to a world that has been without it for too long. Kim Hunter is one of her compatriot Madwomen, Gabrielle, and Alvin Epstein portrays the Ragpicker, who understands the plight of the common man as well as he can articulate the attitudes of the rich.
All three actors, graced with a plethora of stage and film credits, ground their work here in staunch seriousness, while never losing sight of the lighter moments. Jackson's Aurelia can be simultaneously heartbreaking and hilarious, Hunter provides a charming dotty attitude for the deluded Gabrielle, and Epstein's strong voice and physical expressiveness make his Ragpicker every bit their equal.
The other members of the cast also turn in strong performances. Though Elizabeth Block's earthy and hot-blooded Irma and Catherine's Wolf Constance (another Madwoman) are particular standouts, everyone in the cast works well together and makes Chaillot eminently believable, whether we are seeing it through sane or insane eyes.
Roy Steinberg's direction is brisk, pointing up the comedy and the drama equally. Though Drew Francis's scenic designs, awash in green, seem a bit too cartoonish at times, Erica Hoelscher's costumes are delightfully daffy for the Madwomen, but appropriately down to earth for everyone else.
That nearly everyone seems in top form is, perhaps, to be expected, given the quality of the material. The Madwoman of Chaillot, though filled with social comment, is very much a comedy. Aurelia's attempts to take down a group of men planning to drill for oil under the streets of Paris and thwart the remaining evil in the world may be over the top, but seems strangely relevant as the United States prepares to wage a similar battle today.
While it is too early to tell what the outcome of that confrontation might be, we can take comfort in the conflicts waged by Countess Aurelia and her friends in The Madwoman of Chaillot. Giraudoux reminds us that everyone can make a difference, and that no cause need be helpless. These are lessons of tremendous importance now, and when being presented with the grace and professionalism of Ms. Jackson, Ms. Hunter, Mr. Epstein, and all the rest, there can be few ways more enjoyable of absorbing them.
Colleagues Theatre Company