French playwright Jean Giraudoux's The Madwoman of Chaillot (1942) invokes sinister strains of predatory capitalism — about the lust for oil, in a timely coincidence for this production — but it is ultimately a whimsical comedy about a Parisian socialite attempting to restore order to her corner of the world and peace for her neighbors.
Cripple Creek Theater stages the first act cabaret-style in the theater at AllWays Lounge. The audience is seated at the cafe at Chaillot, between the Eiffel Tower and the Seine. Street vendors selling flowers and rags circle among the audience, and a carnivalesque spirit of street life is enhanced by live music by Ratty Scurvics, who takes up a host of instruments throughout the show.
Ragpicker (Ross Britz) is a humble street merchant convinced the garbage he picks through for discarded wares isn't as glorious and pure as it once was, a sign to him of the decline of Parisian life. The Prospector (Andrew Vaught) sits in the cafe, certain he can taste the riches of pure crude in the water served, evidence of vast oil reserves below. He joins an absurdly arrogant and single-minded cluster of venture capitalists who seek profit at any cost, regardless of who they trample along the way. Into the mix comes Countess Aurelia (Jennifer Pagan), a batty and high-spirited woman who has befriended the cafe's regulars and seeks to aid them in their struggles with debt, the police and romance.
Some elements of the play seem unwieldy. The satire of greed appears to have a serious point and there are earnest diatribes about the decline of quality of life, but they yield to Aurelia's cackling joy and her undaunted optimism that everything will work out for the best. She seems to have the wit, will and means to stand up for the little people.
Emilie Whelan directed a large cast and fills in hilariously as Gabrielle, a socialite who raises trifling concerns to epic heights. Vaught is inspired as the petroleum whisperer, who would level Paris in a moment for a drop of oil. Samantha Beaulieu and Donald Lewis are funny as obsessively single-minded bankers, but their villainy is at times too flat. Some subplots get too little attention. The romance between Pierre (Andrew Farrier) and Irma (Andrea Carlin) blossoms more from Aurelia's pronouncements than its own energy. But the flurry of characters, physical comedy, music and high-pitched Aurelia give the work a madcap and warm feel, and it's entertainingly zany. — Will Coviello
Thru Sept. 26
The Madwoman of Chaillot
8 p.m. Fri.-Sun.
AllWays Lounge, 2240 St. Claude Ave., 218-5778; www.cripplecreekplayers.org