One of Chicago's fresh new theatre companies, Thirteenth Tribe, opens it's new adaptation of Jean Genet's The Balcony, the second production of it's premiere season, on August 17.
Whereas the company's first production this past May was an original piece created by the ensemble (The Precipice), the troupe now embraces the harrowing work of the great French playwright. Genet's post-modern drama takes place in a brothel, where bourgeois men engage in a kinky type of role playing that acts out their fantasies of power. All the while, a revolutionary war takes place just outside. Stark realities of human behavior and archetypes are revealed through the men's fantasies and interactions in the brothel.
Dramaturg, company manager and producer Gregory Berlowitz said that the company created this new adaptation by retrieving bits and pieces from all seven versions of Genet's play. "The most amazing thing to me about [the different versions] is that Genet's fascination with the revolutionaries changed. What we've done is we've picked what most productions don't do. We highlighted the revolution. Some versions cut out the [scenes with] revolutionaries altogether. The play is about the revolution to us."
In their research, the company also found three additional characters in one version of the play, possibly translated by one who accessed Genet notebooks. The characters are named Blood, Tears, and Sperms. In the plot, they spring forth from a dream that the brothel's Madam has, and from there on weave themselves into the consciousness of the play.
Director Joanna Settle, currently a Graduate Directing Fellow at the Julliard School and Mabou Mines resident artist attended Hampshire College with five of the seven tribal members. She wanted to direct The Balcony, and jumped at the chance to do it with the young company. Settle feels that both her generation and contemporary theatre are at a similar turning point which she describes as "Tag-team tandem disarray. " She observes that both construct themselves from the sample of history available; therefore, a production of The Balcony , which displays a consciousness of both political and societal history, is a timely production.
Coincidentally, the run also takes place during the Democratic Convention in Chicago. Nearly thirty years ago, Genet arrived in Chicago to cover the 1968 convention with fellow writer/philosophers Terry Southern, William Burroughs and John Sack.
The show will run in the basement space of the Chopin theatre, where the metaphoric use of mirrors in the set will continually change the perspective and image of the stage.
The seven ensemble members who make up Thirteenth Tribe come from different schools of theatrical training and share a broad base of theatrical repertories. The Tribe is dedicated to presenting work which addresses the social and spiritual issues facing our individual and national communities.
The Balcony begins previews at the Chopin Theatre, 1541 West Division St., on August 15 and runs through September 8. Tickets are $15 and are available through the Thirteenth Tribe Box office at (312) 252-2510.
-- By Blair Glaser