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Jean Genet's "The Balcony"

An Analysis & Review
purpose of religion would be limited to social gatherings. This notion of criminal - as saint is merely one of the coinciding opposites mentioned earlier. The image we attach to religious, military heroes, or any hero, like rumors, become definitive. As the stories spread growing to mythological proportions, the figure no longer needs the buskin and padded shoulders to appear larger than life. Now Genet's "onion skin" begins to unravel. Not only are the General, Judge and Bishop Whereas the revolution's banner carried Chantal, the striker's banner carried four deceased fellow students. Both started out as honest attempts and both rapidly disintegrated. To stop fighting for reasons and to begin fighting for heavenly causes is, once again, the incurable human yearning of the human race to be something other than itself. A TOTALITY Summarizing in one word (impossible), the Balcony may be described as a totality. Under Burr's direction. Genet's verbal divesting of all persons within earshot of the actors does remain intact. Genet does not believe in actor immunity. The slighted members of the audience who felt the play was a one-sided battle, must remember that the actor can't blush over their sins of illusion - - they rehease them too THE BISHOP (Kent Williams) long. Besides, Genet claims converses with mirror image. Kent Williams, the Bishop, that the actor's "starting point, conveyed the clearest sense of their reason for being, is exhibitionism." (Even Genet is character differentiation among the brothel's clients. His debecoming definitive no*.) lusionistic advancement, from a The technical crew backstage gasman to the role of priestly were also dependent on this reverence to the actual Bishscheme of totality. Considering op, convinced the audience that that over fifty percent of the this parasitic "saint" could build usual lighting and tech crew were monasteries and cathedrals . . . on tour in Cortland, the 20-man at least in his own mind. staff deserves recognition. AdBut possibly the actor that justing to a light scheme of seemed the most comfortable over 600 light cues, including in this play of coinciding op280 slides and closed circuit posites was the Chief of Potelevision, is an impressive lice, Tony Rasemus. Not only group effort, considering that was the role he portrayed a para lighting error cannot be ad- adox (the Chief of Police wantlibbed. ed immortality by dying when But the greatest total effort his social image was at its mythwas attempted within the acting ological zenith), but even my troupe itself. An extra for a conception of his acting grew Dave Burr play rehearses al- to that of a paradoxical posimost as much as a lead actor. tion. Earlier, 1 considered For "The Balcony," practice con- Tony's portrayal * inapprosumed 4 to 8 hours a night. But priate in the way he played above in a show where there is no the role, pounding his fist and lead actor to carry momentum deftly moving the fingers of his the viewers concern focuses on gloved hand, like a flagellum, the group effort. In certain in- as he stalked across the stage. stances, the force of the show He appeared too much like a is only as strong as its weak- Captain America . . until I thought est actor. Unfortunately, the about his silver boots and silplay's acting runs the gamut ver cape . . . The fact that "The Balcony" is a totality doesn't explain whether or not the play succeeds. The sum of the Production parts - - t h e slides, the television, the Company, - - overshoots the play's whole. Every concept in itself illuminates Genet's dialogue. For instance, the slide - picture of John Kennedy during Chantal'smartrydom proposes for me a very important question: just how historically revered would Kennedy be if he had suffered through the VietNam War until 1968^ But the audience is being "bombarded" too much too fast with the picture of a talented playwright. The play works but only within the confines of the audience's attention span and purpose for being entertained. For those who expected "Oh Calcutta!" from the hints of the XPG publicity rating, by far the biggest mistake of the show, the play ends in scene five after the mass orgasm; the last four scenes are very anti-climatic. For those hampered by the sideTHE JUDGE chastising the "thief," "You need only refuse to be line gazers, the play's worth who you are, - what you are. . .For me to cease to be." (L to R: was proportional to the amount John Mederios, Janet Hemdel, Vince Pelligrino) of attention they could keep focused on stage. after all, an honest expression of from excellent to poor. The purpose of the shorn was to possibly dishonest needs; but it The structure of the play deevoke an audience reaction. A is more honest than the substitumands an enormous amount of tional, suppressed kind of experplot and character development viewer storming out of Waterience the audience is trying to especially in the hour - long man with an inkling of Genet's have. scenes of 5 and 9. This, along concept is one thing. But if the In similar fashion, the 'exwith the excessive amount of viewers ire is raised before tras," as sidelined revolutionverbiage and lack of action (Gen- any insight is discerned, then his aries, mimick the whine of machet is more of a philosopher than departure was motivated by ine gun bullets which more than playwright), left its toll on even actor-annoyance and not frusslightly resemole children playthe good acting jobs, such as tration with himself or the play, ing army. They reflect onstage the roles of Irma (Bonita Zahn) and this can only be considered rebels, such as the narcissistic and her favorite "illusionist." a failure. Appreciation of T h e Balcony" Armand. whose participation in Carmen, played by Maggie Powthe revolution aliens him to beers In the paradoxical con- is enhanced greatly every time come the creature of his dayfines of the brothel, both com- it is seen. But considering the dream s The more relevant promanded a sense of chauvenistic way Gecet and Burr attack the jector reflects oil - stage "rer- dominancy. They talked "man to audience, the onlooker is not exotnbonaries" such as the Oswea&d treated males as pected to return for Berem ties ' go campvs witnessed in the Mays or victims of deof ltTt and 1972. "extras" to reflect and accentuate the events occuring at center stage. However, where Genet's omnipresent mirrors evoke a funhouse impression (mirrors are prominent in decor in all but two of the nine scenes), the Company as they are called, evoke the impression of being lost in the funhouse. In fact, "the extras" may be the one lead actor in a play devoid of lead actors. Constantly milling and searching for someone to ape, they portray the ever - fickle, ever - changing crowd, whose near - neurotic impulse to follow and imitate the leader image is insatiable. In one scene, the entire acting troop gazes into the seats and mimics the audience - one of Genet's most popular targets. Before the play even begins, the closed - circuit television focuses on members of the audience, who can watch themselves or camera as they could any prime - time celebrity. For both Genet and Burr, the audience is a part of the show a directorial conception not overly appreciated, judging by the large number of early - evening retreatists. It is extremely difficult for an on-looker to rationalize that the author is attacking the person next to him, while being psychologically stripped by one of the gaping "extras." However, Genet doesn't attack the audience for their civic mindedness nor their moral decay; as the social outsider, he feels numb toward both. He attacks the viewers lack of selfrecognition -- the motive behind being entertained. Wrhether the viewer's pleasure is identity with the matinee idol or the security of judging a tragedy as a referee from their front - row - seat, whether the thrill be critic incentive or catharsis, the viewer's main intent on entertainment is a temporary escape from their everyday self, n n a i u i t General, Judge and Bishop attempt on stage is,

by Jack Cadwallader Jean Genet, French playwright, author, ex-convict, and self-canonized saint depicts reality in life as Peer Gynt visualized the onion in his hand - there isn't any. Whereas Peer's metaphoric onion represented the total pretense, layerafter layer of skin embodying an empty core, Genet's nihilistic belief in the "Sophistry of the. Nay" demands an even stronger metaphor of pretense - the mirror. Symbol of thesis and anti-thesis, the mirror, not only portrays a false representation; its image reverses the original figure it represents. Throughout "The Balcony*' opposites converge as if one was a reflection of its polar form. Prostitutes are c o n s i d e r e d saints, religion appears as a form of diabolism and appearance can be substituted for function. (McMahon, a Genet critic, states "when reality is indiscernible from illusion, life from death, actuality from role, then opposites will coincide.") Genet's paradoxical mirror reflects us all: we as students, as actors and even as audience. For example, Oswego audiences, often referred to by outsiders as "The Philistines/' are responsible for allowing value judgements to become definitive . . the fictional - fact. The X-rating observed by the students on the billboard displaying "The Balcony" may possibly be dismissed as hype. The "on stage copulation" a student overhears in the lunch line will be given somewhat more consideration, that of a healthy rumor. If more than three reliable friends confirm this then the blurbs have held up under rigid testing controls and the rumor congeals: "The Balcony" (colon) titillating (comma) a must see. "The Balcony" sold out all five nights - a rarity in Oswego. Just what did the audience see? Well, the "must see," the titillation that is, they never saw and the entertainment was less experienced than the experience of Genet's accusing finger was entertained. Under the direction of Dave Burr, Genet's paradox was entertained very well appearance is all the reality there is. SET IN A BROTHEL The entire play revolves around Madame Irma's brothel which she proudly claims is her House of Illusions. Outside her house the revolution is threatening to overthrow the government as well as the infamous brothel. Inside insignificant customers are allowed to enjoy much more than the fruits of the ordinary John. Abandoning bullets, death and all forms of the real world outside, the customers dress up and portray in their "reality" whichever grandiose fantasy figure they desire. A gasman, dressed in bishops' mitre, gold cloth and laces "absolves" a penitent - the role of the prostitute. Another client enters in peasants rags, is stripped, given a general's uniform with padded shoulders and is allowed to act out his funeral as a hero worthy of the Duke of Wellington, while riding "his" woman dressed as a horse. But it is the phony judge, complete with pressed wig. long flowing gown and soap box buskin that mouths the irony of Genet the criminal. Genet the outsider Jucfee (to the "thieD: "Look here: you've got to be a model Judge . . . You need only refuse to be who are you - what you are, therefore who you are - for me to cease to be . . . to vanish, evaporated . . . You won't refuse to be a thief? That would be wicked It would be criminal. You'd deprive me of being ~ This is Genet's condemnation of society's artificial structure The law cannot be "real." cannot exist within itself, because it needs the existence of crime, crime, the judge to be. Without sin.

THE HEAD rebel, Roger, assumes the role of Chief of Police in the brothel. Here Cliff Barbarito attempts to destroy "an image." unreal (because they find it necessary to be someone else), not only are the figures they pretend to be are unreal (because they are the emanation of an unreal mind) but now, the real leaders of our army, our religions, our laws are also under fire of illusion. In the play itself the real leaders are consumed. The bishop's severed head is supposedly ornamenting the handle bars of a bicycle; the Attorney General dies of fright and the most high General has gone mad. In scene five, as the plot itself finally begins to take form, the Chief of Police (Irma's former lover), who is in charge of quelling the rebellion, decides to utilize the House of Illusion. Wrhy should the Bishop, Judge and General play a grandiose role just to please themselves, when they could be deluding the rebels and keeping the heroic symbol alive amonst the populace? Photographers are called in to feed the crowds with the pap of symbolism. They freeze "the definitive image" of the three imposters. According to the photographers, the world ought to be bombarded with the picture of pious men." The crowds accept the delusion with open arms. Quote the Bishop, "You know whom I saw today with his pimples and decayed teeth? And who threw himself on my hand to kiss the ring . . . I thought to bite me and I was to pull away my finders . . . who? . . . my fruit and vegetable man." For the crowds, as well as Genet, appearance i s now reality BURR'S REFLECTORS If Genet considers "The Balcony" the "glorification of the linage and the Reflection. w director Burr compliments the author's craving for images by adding his own. With the aid of scene designer. William Start and electrical technician photographer, Jon Vermilyea. two modern image reflectors are utilized the closed - circuit television (Irma's spying device) and multiple slide projecploys a of own* a dozen