The Naked Truth

To this critic, The Balcony is a pain in the neck.

I would like to say things were otherwise, really I would. I would like to find all kinds of nuance and dozens of brilliantly esoteric references in the LIDA Project's production of Jean Genet's The Balcony. I'd like to have been titillated, frightened or inspired, because it is, after all, a famous -- and famously shocking -- play. And director Brian Freeland and his cast have taken huge risks and clearly given their all to the work. But I was so bored -- and so uncomfortable.

The play takes place in a brothel, where customers dressed as a bishop, a judge and a general explore their sexual fantasies: The bishop makes love to another man; the judge yearns to whip a female thief; the general pretends his whore is a pony. There's some kind of revolution raging outside, and eventually the fighting surges into the brothel. Somehow the fake bishop, judge and general are asked to play the real thing.

The staging is innovative. There are no seats in the auditorium, and most of the action takes place on four platforms above the audience. As you watch, half-clothed actors pass among you. Sometimes they touch or otherwise engage you. It's interesting and appropriately unnerving at first, watching naked people, tensing at the idea that someone might single you out and wondering what these actors would do if one of the audience members touched them first. But every line is declaimed rather than spoken, and -- whether because the script is so enigmatic or because the action at LIDA was so distracting -- I had no idea what was going on most of the time. All I knew was that I was tired of standing; the black plastic bag LIDA had thoughtfully provided as protection from flying fluids was very hot; and I had a crick in my neck from peering upward. I kept thinking that if you actually wanted proof that real-world authority figures are often weak, small, sex-obsessed men parading around in costume, you need look no further than the crew currently running our country. And also that if I heard someone say just once more that the queen was embroidering an invisible handkerchief, I was going to scream.

My friend Anna, who accompanied me to the performance, said she enjoyed it a little. At least looking back on it from the safety of our car ride home, she did. She had a Foucault-ish theory about desire being at the core of all symbol making and culture, and that really did elucidate at least some aspects of what we'd seen. She also had an interesting interpretation of the castration scene. Besides, she'd found the English actor Robin Davies sexy.

Maybe if I'd been more patiently attentive and less tired on the night I attended The Balcony, I'd have seen it differently. Maybe on that particular evening, it would have been better for both me and local theater if I'd been seated in one of the Denver Center's comfy seats or eating chocolate mousse while listening to pretty people singing Cole Porter. But geez, folks, I can see genitals at home.

 
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