John Carradine And Maurice Valency Discuss (And Defend) The Madwoman Of Chaillot – 1949 – Past Daily Weekend Gallimaufry
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The American premier of The Madwoman Of Chaillot on Broadway and the critical reaction to the play from one enthusiastic critic and another, decidedly not enthusiastic. On hand in this episode of The Author Meets The Critics, is one of the principle players, John Carradine and the author of the English Translation, Maurice Valency.
For those of you not familiar with the play:
The Madwoman of Chaillot is a satire, partly poetic, about greed. A group of men want to drill for oil right under
Paris for their own materialistic gain. The Countess Aurelia (the Madwoman of Chaillot) and her cohorts find a way of
putting the men on trial in order to hold them accountable for their greed.
The Countess Aurelia is not alone in her madness. She has three mad colleagues, and is surrounded by many other people, all of whom have a few screws loose. In fact, every single character in the play seems to be mad in at least one way. The point is, though, that it is the war-bent men who are the truly “mad” ones; the Countess and her entourage may be completely crazy in a lot of small matters, but they are quite sane in things that matter. The Countess is not only able to get rid of the malefactors, but she is confident that love will conquer greed.
“A beautifully comedic play of stark contrasts in human character, The Madwoman of Chaillot divides the world sharply between the artists and the men of business. The businessmen, whom are called by their profession rather than by name, are interested only in finding new ways to become wealthier. They do not tolerate anyone but their own kind. On the other hand, the poets, musicians, vagabonds, and artists only want to create and to love and enjoy one another. The bohemians are a vanishing lot; the businessmen are taking over and corrupting everything that is pure and full of life. The Prospector, the Broker, and the President have discovered oil beneath the streets of Paris and seek to destroy whatever they must to get it. It falls to the Madwoman of Chaillot, an eccentric countess who acts as the core of creative thought, and the everyday people of Paris to stop the darkness from taking control of their world. There is no guessing needed to find out which side Giraudoux has taken in this battle of his, yet this dark statement about the world to come has a clearly loving touch and is funny at the same time. Each supporting character has some special purpose within the confines of the play, whether sending a spin of poetic understanding through the
audience or bringing about the play’s glimpse of restored order.”
Like so much creative work done in France during the World War 2 Occupation (1940-1944), much of what was produced was subtle in its disdain for the German occupiers yet escaped any notice by Nazi censors. Needless to say, The Madwoman Of Chaillot was as much an act of resistance as sabotaging a train, only less overt.
Theatre Arts magazine described the play as “one part fantasy, two parts reason.” The New York Drama Critics’ Circle hailed the 1948–50 production as “one of the most interesting and rewarding plays to have been written within the last twenty years”, “pure gold, with no base metal” and having “an enveloping and irresistible humor.” And some were dismissive.
This episode of The Author Meets The Critics, a discussion between two critics, author Maurice Velency and John Carradine, who plays The Ragpicker, gets testy periodically, but doesn’t resort to a knock-down/drag-out that some similar discussions would prompt. It gives you an idea of the status of American Theatre during the Post-World War 2 period and how it was a particularly creative time for Broadway – also premiering during this season was Death Of A Salesman. Despite some decrying Broadway as dead in 1949, it was anything but.
Have a listen for yourself.