The Balcony

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This article is about the play. The Balcony_sentence_0

For other uses, see The Balcony (disambiguation). The Balcony_sentence_1

The Balcony (French: Le Balcon) is a play by the French dramatist Jean Genet. The Balcony_sentence_2

It is set in an unnamed city that is experiencing a revolutionary uprising in the streets; most of the action takes place in an upmarket brothel that functions as a microcosm of the regime of the establishment under threat outside. The Balcony_sentence_3

Since Peter Zadek directed the first English-language production at the Arts Theatre Club in London in 1957, the play has been revived frequently (in various versions) and has attracted many prominent directors, including Peter Brook, Erwin Piscator, Roger Blin, Giorgio Strehler, and JoAnne Akalaitis. The Balcony_sentence_4

It has been adapted as a film and given operatic treatment. The Balcony_sentence_5

The play's dramatic structure integrates Genet's concern with meta-theatricality and role-playing, and consists of two central strands: a political conflict between revolution and counter-revolution and a philosophical one between reality and illusion. The Balcony_sentence_6

Genet suggested that the play should be performed as a "glorification of the Image and the Reflection." The Balcony_sentence_7

Genet's biographer Edmund White wrote that with The Balcony, along with The Blacks (1959), Genet re-invented modern theatre. The Balcony_sentence_8

The psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan described the play as the rebirth of the spirit of the classical Athenian comic playwright Aristophanes, while the philosopher Lucien Goldmann argued that despite its "entirely different world view" it constitutes "the first great Brechtian play in French literature." The Balcony_sentence_9

Martin Esslin has called The Balcony "one of the masterpieces of our time." The Balcony_sentence_10

Synopsis The Balcony_section_0

Most of the action takes place in an upmarket brothel in which its madam, Irma, "casts, directs, and co-ordinates performances in a house of infinite mirrors and theaters." The Balcony_sentence_11

Genet uses this setting to explore roles of power in society; in the first few scenes patrons assume the roles of a bishop who forgives a penitent, a judge who punishes a thief, and a general who rides his horse. The Balcony_sentence_12

Meanwhile, a revolution is progressing outside in the city and the occupants of the brothel anxiously await the arrival of the Chief of Police. The Balcony_sentence_13

Chantal, one of the prostitutes, has quit the brothel to become the embodiment of the spirit of the revolution. The Balcony_sentence_14

An Envoy from the Queen arrives and reveals that the pillars of society (the Chief Justice, the Bishop, the General, etc.) have all been killed in the uprising. The Balcony_sentence_15

Using the costumes and props in Irma's "house of illusions" (the traditional French name for a brothel), the patrons' roles are realised when they pose in public as the figures of authority in a counter-revolutionary effort to restore order and the status quo. The Balcony_sentence_16

Characters The Balcony_section_1

Textual history The Balcony_section_2

The Balcony exists in three distinct versions, published in French in 1956, 1960, and 1962. The Balcony_sentence_17

The first version consists of two acts of fifteen scenes and includes a dream sequence in which Irma's dream of three wounded young men—who personify blood, tears, and sperm—is enacted immediately before Arthur returns to the brothel and is abruptly shot. The Balcony_sentence_18

The second version is the longest and most political. The Balcony_sentence_19

The third version is shorter and reduces the political content of the scene with the café revolutionaries. The Balcony_sentence_20

Bernard Frechtman's first English translation (published in 1958) was based on Genet's second version, while Frechtman's second, revised English translation (published in 1966) was based on Genet's third version. The Balcony_sentence_21

A translation by Barbara Wright and Terry Hands, which the RSC used in its 1987 production, incorporates scenes and elements from all three versions. The Balcony_sentence_22

Genet wrote the first version of the play between January and September 1955, during which time he also wrote The Blacks and re-worked his screenplay The Penal Colony. The Balcony_sentence_23

Immediately afterwards, in October and November the same year, he wrote Her, a posthumously published one-act play about the pope, which is related to The Balcony. The Balcony_sentence_24

Genet took his initial inspiration for The Balcony from Franco's Spain, explaining in a 1957 article that: The Balcony_sentence_25

Genet was particularly interested at the time in newspaper reports of two projects for massive tombs: the Caudillo's own colossal memorial near Madrid, the Valle de los Caídos ("Valley of the Fallen"), where he was buried in 1975, and the projected mausoleum of Aga Khan III in Aswan, Egypt. The Balcony_sentence_26

They provided the source for the Chief of Police's longing for a great mausoleum and the founding of a funerary cult around him in the play. The Balcony_sentence_27

The meditations on the contrast between Being and Doing that the Bishop articulates in the first scene recall the "two irreducible systems of values" that Jean-Paul Sartre suggested in Saint Genet (1952) Genet "uses simultaneously to think about the world." The Balcony_sentence_28

Marc Barbezat's company L'Arbalète published the first version of The Balcony in June 1956; the artist Alberto Giacometti created several lithographs based on the play that appeared on its cover (including a tall, dignified Irma, the Bishop who was made to resemble Genet, and the General with his whip). The Balcony_sentence_29

Genet dedicated this version to Pierre Joly, a young actor and Genet's lover at the time. The Balcony_sentence_30

Genet began to re-write the play in late October 1959 and again in May 1960, the latter prompted by its recent production under the direction of Peter Brook. The Balcony_sentence_31

He worked on the third version between April and October 1961, during which time he also read Friedrich Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy (1872), a work of dramatic theory that was to become one of Genet's favourite books and a formative influence on his ideas about the role of myth and ritual in post-realist theatre] The Balcony_sentence_32

Production history The Balcony_section_3

1950s The Balcony_section_4

In a note of 1962, Genet writes that: "In London, at the Arts Theatre, I saw for myself that The Balcony was badly acted. The Balcony_sentence_33

It was equally badly acted in New York, Berlin and Paris – so I was told." The Balcony_sentence_34

The play received its world première in London on 22 April 1957, in a production directed by Peter Zadek at the Arts Theatre Club, a "private theatre club" that enabled the production to circumvent the Lord Chamberlain's ban on public performances of the play (though the censor still insisted that what he considered to be blasphemous references to Christ, the Virgin, the Immaculate Conception and Saint Theresa be cut, along with the failed revolutionary Roger's castration near the end of the play). The Balcony_sentence_35

It featured Selma Vaz Dias as Irma and Hazel Penwarden as Chantal. The Balcony_sentence_36

Genet himself participated in the theatrics during the opening-night performance when he accused Zadek of the "attempted murder" of his play and attempted to obstruct the performance physically, but police officers prevented him from entering the theatre. The Balcony_sentence_37

Genet objected to what he called its "Folies Bergère"-style mise en scène. The Balcony_sentence_38

The production was well-received for the most part. The Balcony_sentence_39

Two years later in 1959 the play was produced at the Schlosspark-Theater in Berlin under the direction of Hans Lietzau. The Balcony_sentence_40

This production utilised a colour TV set for Irma's surveillance and switchboard machine. The Balcony_sentence_41

1960s The Balcony_section_5

The first New York production opened Off-Broadway in a theatre in the round production at the Circle in the Square Theatre on 3 March 1960. The Balcony_sentence_42

This production was directed by José Quintero, who shortened the text considerably, and featured Nancy Marchand as Irma (who was replaced by Grayson Hall), Roy Poole as the Chief of Police, Betty Miller as Carmen, Jock Livingston as the Envoy, Arthur Malet as the Judge, Sylvia Miles as Marlyse, and Salome Jens as Elyane. The Balcony_sentence_43

The production was very well-received and won the 1960 Obie Awards for Genet for Best Foreign Play, for David Hays for its scenic design, and a Distinguished Performance award for both Livingston and Marchand; the production became what was at the time the longest-running Off-Broadway play in history, with 672 performances. The Balcony_sentence_44

Peter Brook had planned to direct the play in 1958 at the Théâtre Antoine in Paris, until he was forced to postpone when the theatre's artistic director, Simone Berriau, was threatened by the Parisian police. The Balcony_sentence_45

Brook recounts: The Balcony_sentence_46

Brook eventually directed the play's French première two years later, which opened on 18 May 1960 at the Théâtre du Gymnase in Paris. The Balcony_sentence_47

The production featured Marie Bell as Irma, Loleh Bellon as Carmen, and Roger Blin as the Envoy. The Balcony_sentence_48

Brook designed the sets, which used a revolve for the first few scenes in the brothel. The Balcony_sentence_49

The scene in the café with the revolutionaries was cut and many of Genet's cruder words were omitted because the actresses refused to speak them; Genet objected to both decisions, as well as the use of a revolve. The Balcony_sentence_50

Public reaction to Brook's production was mixed. The Balcony_sentence_51

Lucien Goldmann thought that Brook's naturalistic decor and acting style (with the exception of Blin and Muselli's performances) obscured the play's "symbolic, universal character" (which an epic design, he suggests via a comparison with Mother Courage and Her Children, and defamiliarised mode of acting would have foregrounded), while Brook's decision to transform the set only once (dividing the play into a period of order and one of disorder) distorted the play's tripartite structure (of order, disorder, and the re-establishment of order). The Balcony_sentence_52

The production prompted Genet to re-write the play. The Balcony_sentence_53

Leon Epp directed a production in 1961 at the Volkstheater in Vienna, which subsequently transferred to Paris. The Balcony_sentence_54

Erwin Piscator directed a production at the Städtische Bühnen Frankfurt, which opened on 31 March 1962 with scenic design by Johannes Waltz and music by Aleida Montijn. The Balcony_sentence_55

A production opened in Boston in November 1966, while Roger Blin, who had played the Envoy in Brook's 1960 production, directed the play in Rotterdam in April 1967. The Balcony_sentence_56

In Britain, the Oxford Playhouse also produced the play in 1967, under the direction of Minos Volanakis, a friend of Genet's who, working under a pseudonym, also designed the sets. The Balcony_sentence_57

His scenic design utilised Melinex to create a "a revolving labyrinth of silver foil mirrors." The Balcony_sentence_58

Victor Garcia directed a production at the Ruth Escobar Theatre in São Paulo in 1969, which Genet saw in July 1970. The Balcony_sentence_59

The production was staged under the new regime of Brazil's military dictator General Garrastazu Médici; the actress who played Chantal, Nilda Maria, was arrested for anti-government activities and her children were sent to Public Welfare, prompting Genet to petition the wife of the city's governor for their release. The Balcony_sentence_60

In Garcia's production, the audience observed the action from vertiginous balconies overlooking a pierced 65' plastic and steel tunnel; the actors performed on platforms within the tunnel, or clinging to its sides, or on the metal ladders that led from one platform to another, creating the impression of animals driven insane within the cages of a zoo. The Balcony_sentence_61

The aim, Garcia explained, was to make the public feel as though it was suspended in a void, with "nothing in front of it nor behind it, only precipices." The Balcony_sentence_62

It won 13 critics' awards in the country and ran for 20 months. The Balcony_sentence_63

As already mentioned, Garcia's boldness and endeavour led to the arrival of Jean Genet to Brazil in 1970, that considered this production the best montage of his text — making it an international reference to the genetians studies. The Balcony_sentence_64

Antoine Bourseiller directed the play twice, in Marseilles in 1969 and Paris in 1975. The Balcony_sentence_65

Genet saw Bourseiller's first production in February 1969, which set the scenes with the revolutionaries inside Irma's brothel and cast non-actors in the leading roles, including Bourseiller's wife, Chantal Darget, as Irma. The Balcony_sentence_66

Writing to the cast, Genet advised: "You can break it [the play] into pieces and then glue them back together, but make sure that it holds together." The Balcony_sentence_67

Genet wrote many letters at that time to Bourseiller about the art of acting. The Balcony_sentence_68

1970s The Balcony_section_6

The Royal Shakespeare Company staged the play at the Aldwych Theatre, London, opening on 25 November 1971 with Brenda Bruce as Irma, Estelle Kohler as Carmen, and Barry Stanton as the Chief of Police; its director was Terry Hands and its designer was Farrah. The Balcony_sentence_69

The RSC premièred another production, with the same director and designer, on 9 July 1987 at the Barbican Theatre, in a translation by Barbara Wright and Terry Hands. The Balcony_sentence_70

Dilys Laye played Irma, Kathryn Pogson played Carmen, and Joe Melia played the Chief of Police in this production. The Balcony_sentence_71

On both occasions the RSC performed a version of the play that incorporated scenes and elements from Genet's texts of 1956 and 1960 that do not appear in the French edition of 1962. The Balcony_sentence_72

This version was also used in a production at the Abbey Theatre in New York, which opened on 4 December 1976 and featured Karen Sunde as Irma, Ara Watson as Carmen (later replaced by Carol Fleming), Tom Donaldson as the Chief of Police, and Christopher Martin as the Envoy. The Balcony_sentence_73

Giorgio Strehler directed a production at the Piccolo Teatro in Milan in 1976. The Balcony_sentence_74

Richard Schechner directed an "updated" version with The Performance Group in New York in 1979. The Balcony_sentence_75

He transformed the revolution into another fantasy staged in the brothel (as Bourseiller had done ten years earlier in Marseilles) and made Roger shoot Chantel when he realises that she still belongs to the brothel. The Balcony_sentence_76

1980s The Balcony_section_7

July 1981, London . The Balcony_sentence_77

In the middle of the 1981 Brixton riot Internationalist Theatre staged a multi-racial performance of Genet`s revolutionary play featuring the Sierra Leonean actress Ellen Thomas in the role of Irma. The Balcony_sentence_78

,"While the ruling classes, the icons and figureheads fiddle, society burns around them...a comment on power and political manoeuvre" ... thought provoking .." The cast included French actor Yves Aubert as the General and Angelique Rockas as Carmen . The Balcony_sentence_79

The Finnish Broadcasting Company's (YLE) television theatre produced a television adaptation of the Balcony in 1982, directed by Arto af Hällström and Janne Kuusi. The Balcony_sentence_80

The Balcony was the first play by Genet that the Comédie-Française staged, although he neither attended rehearsals nor saw it performed there; the production opened on 14 December 1985, under the direction of Georges Lavaudant. The Balcony_sentence_81

JoAnne Akalaitis directed the play in a translation by Jean-Claude van Itallie at the American Repertory Theater (on their Loeb Stage) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which opened on 15 January 1986, with choreography by Johanna Boyce, sets by George Tsypin, costume design by Kristi Zea and music by Rubén Blades. The Balcony_sentence_82

Akalaitis set the play in a Central American republic and added a "Marcos"-figure (played by Tim McDonough) as the leader of the revolutionaries. The Balcony_sentence_83

Joan MacIntosh played Irma, Diane D'Aquila played Carmen, Harry S. Murphy played the Chief of Police, and Jeremy Geidt played the Envoy. The Balcony_sentence_84

1990s The Balcony_section_8

Geoffrey Sherman directed a production at the Hudson Guild Theater in New York in 1990. The Balcony_sentence_85

Angela Sargeant played Irma, Freda Foh Shen played Carmen, Sharon Washington played the Envoy, and Will Rhys played the Chief of Police, while Paul Wonsek designed the sets and lighting. The Balcony_sentence_86

The Jean Cocteau Repertory company produced the play at the Bouwerie Lane Theatre in New York in 1999. The Balcony_sentence_87

Eve Adamson directed and designed the lighting, while Robert Klingelhoffer designed the sets. The Balcony_sentence_88

Elise Stone played Irma, Craig Smith played the Chief of Police, and Jason Crowl played the Envoy. The Balcony_sentence_89

2000s The Balcony_section_9

Sébastien Rajon directed the play at the Théâtre de l'Athénée in Paris, opening on 11 May 2005. The Balcony_sentence_90

Patrick Burnier designed the sets and Michel Fau played Irma, Frédéric Jessau played the Chief of Police, Xavier Couleau played the Envoy, and Marjorie de Larquier played Carmen. The Balcony_sentence_91

The director performed the role of the slave. The Balcony_sentence_92

Audiobook The Balcony_section_10

An audiobook of the production with Patrick Magee, Cyril Cusack and Pamela Brown was recorded as an LP by conductor Howard Sackler and released by Caedmon Records in 1967. The Balcony_sentence_93

Analysis and criticism The Balcony_section_11

The philosopher Lucien Goldmann suggests that the themes of The Balcony may be divided between those that are essential and primary and those that are non-essential and secondary. The Balcony_sentence_94

Those that we may recognise from Genet's earlier work—the double, the mirror, sexuality, dream-death vs. reality-impure life—belong to the secondary level, he argues, while the play's essential theme is a clear and comprehensible analysis of the transformation of industrial society into a technocracy. The Balcony_sentence_95

Genet relates the experiences of his characters "to the great political and social upheavals of the twentieth century," Goldmann argues, particularly important among which is "the collapse of the tremendous hopes for revolution." The Balcony_sentence_96

He discerns in the play's dramatic structure a balance of three equal movements—"established order, threat to order, and order again re-established." The Balcony_sentence_97

The first section of the play dramatises the way in which the prestigious images of the established order—the Bishop, the Judge, the General—belie the actual bearers of power in modern society: The Balcony_sentence_98

Irma and the Chief of Police "possess the real power," Goldmann points out; they "represent the two essential aspects of technocracy: the organization of an enterprise and the power of the State." The Balcony_sentence_99

Consequently, the Chief of Police's dilemma dramatises the historical process of "the growth in prestige of the technicians of repression in the consciousness of the great masses of people." The Balcony_sentence_100

The subject of the play is the transformation by means of which "the Chief of Police comes to be part of the fantasies of power of the people who do not possess it." The Balcony_sentence_101

This process is borne by Roger, the revolutionary leader whose downfall forms part of the third section: The Balcony_sentence_102

To the extent that "realism" is understood as "the effort to bring to light the essential relationships that at a particular moment govern both the development of the whole of social relations and—through the latter—the development of individual destinies and the psychological life of individuals," Goldmann argues that The Balcony has a realist structure and characterises Genet as "a very great realist author": The Balcony_sentence_103

While Goldmann detects an "extremely strong" Brechtian influence in The Balcony, Carol Rosen characterises Genet's dramaturgy as "Artaudian." The Balcony_sentence_104

"Just as Mme. The Balcony_sentence_105

Irma's brothel is the intangible shadow of a real social phenomenon," she suggests, "her closet dramas are the Artaudian double of their impotent bases in truth." The Balcony_sentence_106

Rosen reads Irma's brothel as "a metaphysical construct in a discussion play about the value of mimetic ritual, the transcendence possible in play, and the |magical efficacy of the theater itself"; it is "more than a naturalistically ordered stage brothel; it is more than real; it expresses conflicting ideas with the erotic nuances of a dream." The Balcony_sentence_107

In line with Genet's interest in Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy (1872), Rosen aligns the development of Irma's relationship to the audience with the mythic narrative of Dionysos toying with Pentheus in Euripides' tragedy The Bacchae (405 BCE). The Balcony_sentence_108

In contrast to Goldmann's analysis of the play as an epic defamiliarisation of the historical rise of technocracy, Rosen sees The Balcony as a theatre of cruelty staging of "a mythic dimension to the dark side of the human soul." The Balcony_sentence_109

Like Goldmann, J. L. Styan, too, detects the influence of Brechtian defamiliarisation in the play, which he reads as a "political examination of how man chooses his role in society." The Balcony_sentence_110

Styan argues that—despite the symbolism of evil and the sensational, emotionally disturbing staging of the secret desires of its audience—there is in Genet's theatre "a sharp intellectual edge, a shocking clear-headedness" that "links him more with Pirandello than with Artaud." The Balcony_sentence_111

Genet's theatre, the editors of Jean Genet: Performance and Politics argue, stages an interrogation and deconstruction of "the value and status of the theatrical frame itself." The Balcony_sentence_112

Postmodern performance, though, provides the most appropriate frame of reference for understanding it, they suggest. The Balcony_sentence_113

They observe that, in common with his other late dramas, The Blacks (1959) and The Screens (1964), The Balcony's exploration of explosive political issues appears to contradict its author's calls for a "non-historical, mythical stage." The Balcony_sentence_114

They interpret The Balcony as an examination of "how revolutions are appropriated through mass-media manipulation." The Balcony_sentence_115

Taking their cue from Genet's note on the play from 1960, they conclude that Genet felt that "conventional political theatre too often indulges the spectator by depicting the revolution as having already happened. The Balcony_sentence_116

Instead of encouraging the audience to change the world, it acts as a safety valve, and thus works to support the status quo." The Balcony_sentence_117

His is a form of political theatre that is "neither didactic nor based on realism"; instead, it fuses the metaphysical or sacred and the political and constitutes the most successful articulation to date of "post-modernist performance and Brechtian critical theatre." The Balcony_sentence_118

It "shows us that performance is not divorced from reality," they suggest, but rather that it is "productive of reality." The Balcony_sentence_119

Adaptations The Balcony_section_12

In November 1961, Genet met the American film director Joseph Strick, with whom he agreed to a cinematic adaption of the play. The Balcony_sentence_120

The film version of The Balcony was released in 1963, directed by Strick. The Balcony_sentence_121

It starred Shelley Winters, Peter Falk, Lee Grant and Leonard Nimoy. The Balcony_sentence_122

The film garnered nominations for George J. Folsey for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography and for Ben Maddow for a Writers Guild of America Award. The Balcony_sentence_123

Robert DiDomenica composed an operatic version of the play in 1972, though it did not receive its première until Sarah Caldwell of the Opera Company of Boston produced it in 1990. The Balcony_sentence_124

Having seen the New York production of the play in 1960, DiDomenica based his libretto on Bernard Frechtman's revised translation of 1966, though he did not acquire the rights to do so until shortly before Genet's death, in 1986. The Balcony_sentence_125

A reviewer for The New York Times found the production "a wonderfully intelligent construct, overlaid with a lyrical and dramatic sensibility that makes searing emotional contact at many crucial points." The Balcony_sentence_126

Mignon Dunn played Irma and Susan Larson played Carmen. The Balcony_sentence_127

In 2001/02, the Hungarian composer Peter Eötvös created an opera based on the French version of the play. The Balcony_sentence_128

It was staged for the first time at the Festival d'Aix en Provence on 5 July 2002. The Balcony_sentence_129

It was produced again in 2014 at the Théâtre de l'Athénée, in Paris by the orchestra le balcon. The Balcony_sentence_130


Credits to the contents of this page go to the authors of the corresponding Wikipedia page: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The Balcony.