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Randall presents 'The Madwoman of Chaillot'

When French playwright Jean Giraudoux wrote “The Madwoman of Chaillot” in 1943, it was fantasy and absurd satire. After all, who would destroy all of Paris to obtain oil lying beneath its streets?

But what was unthinkable in 1943 has become darkly prophetic today, as fracking causes earthquake swarms in Oklahoma and flammable drinking water in Texas.

Randall Theatre's production of “The Madwoman of Chaillot” opens Friday, June 26, with a reception at 6:30 p.m. Tickets cost $18 and include hors d'oeuvres, drinks and reserved seating at the community theater, 10 Third St., Medford. A benefit preview performance will be presented at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 25, to raise money for Helen Lynn, a Rogue Valley toddler suffering from end-stage renal failure.

Other shows are set for 7 p.m. Saturday, June 27, Thursday and Friday, July 2-3, and Wednesday through Saturday, July 8-11. Matinees are set for 1 p.m. Sundays, June 28, and July 5 and 12.

Reserved seating costs $15. Pay-what-you-want tickets are available 30 minutes before shows. Tickets and information are available at www.randalltheatre.com or by calling 541-632-3258. 

In “The Madwoman of Chaillot,” Countess Aurelia, a sweetly eccentric older lady, overhears three powerful conspirators plotting to dig up all of Paris to get to oil they believe is below its streets. Aurelia refuses to believe what she has heard until another eavesdropper, the Ragpicker, convinces her that all of Paris will be destroyed, replacing almond trees with oil derricks.

The countess gathers her three equally eccentric friends and the street people of the Chaillot “quartier” to fight the threat, pronounce judgment on the speculators and impose a uniquely Parisian punishment.

“This play is amazingly relevant to what is going on today, with the current controversy over fossil fuels and fracking,” says “Madwoman” director Susan Aversa-Orrego. “We are not staging ‘Madwoman’ as a period piece. We have brought the characters and the action into what is happening now.”

In Giraudoux’s original, set in the 1940s, the “madwomen” were relics of the turn-of-the-century Edwardian age. Aversa-Orrego has set the play in 2015. The ladies are now throwbacks to the 1950s, dressed in prim hats, white gloves and pearls. The businessmen plot on cellphones and iPads.

“Aurelia and her friends are quirky, not insane. They have their own level of reality,” says Aversa-Orrego. “They have retreated to an era when they felt safe.”

Randall’s production features 22 actors, with some doubling roles, as well as onstage musicians. Aversa-Orrego says the play’s challenge is to show how Chaillot’s ordinary people — ragpickers, singers, musicians, a flower girl and a sewer worker — will be impacted by the conspiracy.

Pam Ward plays Aurelia, with the other madwomen played by Becky Durango, Simone Stewart and Ann Haynes. William Coyne is the Ragpicker. Original music is by Geoff Ridden, with choreography by Debbie Downward.

“This is the first role that has touched me as deeply as Aldonza in ‘Man of La Mancha,’ ” Ward says. “It demands an ‘age-appropriate’ actor, and I bring a life worth’s of experience to the role.”

Giraudoux’s play opened in Paris in December 1945 — shortly after the end of World War II — and on Broadway in 1948. A 1969 movie included Katharine Hepburn, Margaret Leighton, Edith Evans, Danny Kaye and Yul Brynner in its all-star cast. Critics at the time loved the satire but scoffed at its message as improbable fantasy.

Roberta Kent is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at rbkent@mind.net.

Pam Ward plays Countess Aurelia in Randall Theatre's 'The Madwoman of Chaillot,' set in the '40s. Photo courtesy of Randall Theatre