Jean Giraudoux may have had the Third Reich in mind when he wrote this piece in Vichy France in 1943, but like his contemporary, George Orwell, he could not have been more prescient if he had visited the future with a time machine: By setting the story in present-day NYC, and with only the slightest tweaking of the script — a topical phrase here, a familiar song lyric there — Denver Center Theater Company director Israel Hicks hits upon a gold mine of satire and social criticism that would make Michael Moore jealous.
It may have seemed whimsical to his public in the mid-20th century when the playwright spoofed greedy oilmen wanting to drill a well in the Louvre.But seeing this contemporary version in light of the now endless world war for vanishing petroleum resources — while Iraq and the Alaska Wildlife Refuge fill the headlines — one can only gasp at the compelling coincidences.
If a wide-eyed blogger or irreverent documentary filmmaker had fashioned the first scene — in which the CEO (John Hutton), Senator (Jamie Horton), Geological Engineer (Bill Christ), and Broker (Randy Moore) get together for a power lunch at a midtown Manhattan sidewalk cafe and plan on blowing up a building to expedite drilling permits — a significant portion of the aud could have been expected to get up and walk out, writing off such unthinkable insinuations to “conspiracy theorists,” as the corporate press has branded 9-11 dissenters. But given the age of the script, only gaping jaws and nervous laughter were evident here.
Recapturing the gaiety of Giraudoux’s Paris of the mind, helmer Hicks surrounds these culprits and fills the in-the-round Space Theater with a panoply of urban fauna — a street singer, flower seller, deaf mute, street vendor, waiter, cop, break dancer, bicycle messenger, bus boy, waitress, derelict, rag picker, and sewer man — worthy of even the most hardened Gotham people watcher’s admiration.
As lunch winds down, into this rich mix of arrogance and humility regally steps the homeless, yet revered Countess Aurelia, Madwoman of Tribeca (Kathleen M. Brady), calling for her daily bag of scraps to feed the neighborhood’s stray cats. Commanding the attention of her gathered minions, who beseech her with concerns over the oil barons’ dastardly plot, Aurelia nonchalantly assures them she will take care of this trifling matter.
Mainstay DCTC comedienneBrady — resplendent in a coordinated wardrobe of second-hand treasures and choice rags, not to mention her otherworldly feather boa — uses her mellifluous charms to effortlessly navigate the fine line between delusion and inspiration, allowing us no difficulties when she offhandedly remarks that dispensing with the New World Order is “nothing … that a sensible woman can’t set … right in the course of an afternoon.”
Brady is surrounded by nearly a score of longtime company stalwarts whose perfs are commensurately well-defined. Of particular delight are Hutton’s smarmy and heartless CEO, Moore’s gleefully manipulative Broker, Keith L. Hatten’s eloquent Rag Picker, Robin Moseley’s petulant Constance, the Madwoman of Upper East Side, and Charles Weldon’s irrepressible Street Singer.
When the trial of the plutocrats ends with the Madwomen finding them guilty of worshipping the almighty dollar, and the CEOs, Geological Engineers, Lawyers, and their gold diggers are subsequently baited by Aurelia to her underground lair and led to Hades, we are happy to join Weldon and his cohorts, as they exit, in a round from Bob Marley’s anthem of the dispossessed, “Stand up for Your Rights.”