The Balcony by Jean Genet, a nimbus theatre production
Kicking off its 10th season, nimbus has christened a new permanent theater space at 1517 Central Avenue in Northeast Minneapolis with a spicy adaptation of Jean Genet’s controversial The Balcony (nimbus theater, February 11th through March 6th).
A sign posted at the entry to the house warns: “Please be aware this show contains cigar smoke, gunshots, loud explosions, vulgar language, adult situations, and whips.” The Balcony delivers faithfully on each, and in nimbus artistic director Josh Cragun’s hands, it provides a delightful yet thought-provoking evening of entertainment.
The play, by French novelist, poet and activist Jean Genet, was first produced in London in 1957 and has been a favorite among directors ever since. It won an Obie for Genet in 1960 after its American premiere in New York. The action plays out in an upscale brothel run by Madame Irma (a proud and business-like Heidi Berg). As a bloody revolution rages outside, we are introduced to power archetypes in the form of a bishop (Jeffery Goodson), a judge (Eric Ringham) and a general (Bud Prescott) who have come to Irma’s to play out their fantasies. But they are perhaps not surprisingly reluctant when the opportunity to play these same roles in the real world arises after their corresponding societal equivalents are killed in the revolution.
Key supporting roles in the well-matched cast are the brothel staff, including MaryLynn Mennicke, Brian Hesser, Kate Gunther, and Katherine Moeller. All bring memorable performances. Also of note is Mason Mahoney as the dashing cigar-chomping Chief of Police and Erin Denman as Chantal, a former prostitute who has left the brothel to become a sort of living icon of the revolution.
In the staging, I found use of platform shoes for the bishop, judge and to be a nicely twisted touch (costumes by Lisa Conley), as well as the tarot card archetypes incorporated into the set (set design by Zach Morgan). Nimbus’s new theater also allowed for a dramatic scene change about halfway through the play which would not have been as readily accomplished in their old space.
I should caution that run time is on the high end at just over three hours with one intermission, but the moments my attention wavered were spread out in such a way that I still felt thoroughly engaged from end to end.
If you haven’t been to nimbus since their days at the Minneapolis Theater Garage, The Balcony presents a great opportunity to visit them again in their new, more versatile space.