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THEATER BEAT

A Watchable Show From 'The Balcony'

July 22, 1994|SCOTT COLLINS

Jean Genet's "The Balcony," performed by the All-U-Can-Eat Players at the World Theatre, begins with one of the most infamous scenes in modern theater: a barefoot young woman confessing to an imposing man dressed in bishop's vestments.

The solemnity of this scene is nicely undercut, of course, when we learn that the man is in fact a meter reader and the woman a prostitute indulging his perverted role-playing.

Set in the Grand Balcony, a whorehouse presided over by the redoubtable Madame Irma (Nancy Louise Kyes), Genet's ribald allegory is meant to skewer modern authority figures--here represented by a prelate (Christopher Laurence), a judge (Michael Albaba, hilariously decadent), a general (Van Eric Hausman) and a police chief (Julian Stone).

The current production is a generally sharp and watchable interpretation of the classic, with a welcome current of tension rippling underneath its sadomasochistic vignettes. Yet director Sean Sullivan and his well-chosen ensemble of 10 now and then seem understandably overwhelmed by the text's complexity.

Their zest and imagination levels wane as Genet tackles themes as diverse as religious hypocrisy, media overkill and death. By the climax--a shootout during an ominous, vaguely described civil war--one wishes that the troupe had carried the play's outrageousness to a wild and totally illogical extreme, rather than a bland, slightly campy denouement.

"The Balcony" is simply no time for artistic restraint.

* "The Balcony," World Theatre, 6543 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Fridays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Ends Aug. 21. $12. (213) 962-3771. Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes.

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