The Balcony

By Jean Genet
Illustration by Bill Burgard

March 28 - 30, April 4 - 6 at 8 PM
March 30 & April 7 at 2 PM
Trueblood Theatre

newsletter | press release | program | production designs | photographs

From our Newsletter
Ritual and Profanity - Jean Genet
Jean Genet is one of the most provocative and unexpected of all influential 20th century playwrights. Born the illegitimate son of a Parisian prostitute in 1910, Genet was abandoned at a young age and raised by state institutions. He made the money he needed to survive through theft and prostitution, and was incarcerated several times for crimes including vagrancy, homosexuality and larceny. It was while he was in prison that he developed his one outlet in life writing. Sentenced to life imprisonment, Genet may have been forgotten about had it not been for the efforts of important French writers like Gide, Sartre, and Cocteau, who convinced the French president to grant Genet a pardon.

When "The Balcony" was first staged it was deemed too scandalous for Paris audiences and had to be produced at a private club in London. "The Balcony" is set in a brothel, and is the story of three patrons whose fantasies to impersonate a bishop, a general and a judge changes the outcome of a revolution when they are confused for those real dignitaries. Like most of Genet's work, "The Balcony" does not rely on traditional plot or psychology; instead, it is based in ritualized dances, parades, and other ceremonial events like the Catholic mass.

The show will be directed by Department of Theatre faculty member Mbala Nkanga, a native of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who has done extensive research on Genet, the avant-garde, French theatre, as well as Central African performance traditions. The UM interpretation of Genet's "The Balcony" will show you how Genet's work as a playwright directly influenced contemporary avant-garde artists and intercultural and interdisciplinary performance.

Press Release

ANN ARBOR - The University of Michigan Department of Theatre and Drama presents French playwright Jean Genet's drama "The Balcony," March 28-30 and April 4-6, 8:00 p.m. and March 31 and April 7, 2:00 p.m. at the Trueblood Theatre in Ann Arbor. A controversial and bizarre portrait of power and intimacy, "The Balcony" is the UM mainstage directorial debut of Theatre Department faculty member Mbala Nkanga.

Because of its adult-oriented themes, "The Balcony" may not be appropriate for all audiences. Ticket prices are $15 general admission with students only $7 with ID. Tickets are available at the League Ticket Office, located within the Michigan League on UM Central Campus. The Ticket Office is open from 10am-6pm, Monday through Friday and 10am-1pm on Saturday. Order by phone at (734) 764-2538. All major credit cards are accepted. The Trueblood Theatre is located within the Frieze Building at 105 S. State Street in Ann Arbor.

There will be post-performance discussions on March 28 and 31 and April 5. The discussions will be led by Prof. Nkanga or by UM French and Comparative Literature Professor Frieda Ekotto, a renowned expert on Genet who published the book "L'écriture carcérale et le discours juridique: Jean Genet et Roger Knobelspiesson" in 1999.

First staged at a private club in London because it was considered too scandalous for Paris audiences in 1956, "The Balcony" is set in the Grand Balcony, a brothel in a contemporary European city aflame with revolution. The Grand Balcony is a palace of illusions where men come to indulge in their secret fantasies. Inside, prostitutes assist patrons in play acting a variety of roles: a judge inflicting punishment on a beautiful thief, a bishop dealing with a penitent sinner, a general meditating on his relationship with his horse (played by a bridled prostitute). However, fantasy and reality become clouded when the insurgents in the street overthrow the Royal Palace and presumably kill the country's queen and her court. It is then that the Police Chief replaces these dignitaries with their simulacra from The Grand Balcony, including the bordello's Madame Irma assuming the role of Queen. As the masqueraders warm to their roles, they convince even the revolutionaries that the illusion created in the bordello is preferable to reality.

Still, "The Balcony" is not a morality play. It's "not about good vs. evil or right vs. wrong," says Prof. Nkanga, "but is about human action and making choices."

Ignoring traditional plot and psychology, the play relies heavily on ritual, transformation, illusion and interchangeable identities. Genet believed that virtually anyone could bear a name or a title and wrote all of his full-length plays including "The Balcony," "The Blacks," "The Maids," and "The Screens" in order to expose and reveal how fraudulent liturgical, legal, and royal titles can be.

Born in Paris in 1910, Jean Genet was abandoned by his parents and spent much of his youth in an institution for juvenile delinquents. Wrongfully accused of stealing at the age of ten, Genet recoiled at being labeled a thief, and resolved to actually become a thief. "Thus," wrote Genet, "I decisively repudiated a world that had repudiated me."

Between 1930 and 1940, he wandered through various European countries, living as a thief and prostitute. Later, after being sentenced to life imprisonment for theft, Genet began writing. His work was greatly influenced by the nearly 30 years that he spent in the French penal system, and, concurrently, influenced many people. Genet was later pardoned for his crimes through the efforts of important French writers including Gide, Sartre, and Cocteau.

Genet's plays are currently receiving new attention with an increasing number of productions being staged worldwide. Additionally, many of his works have been adapted into movies over the past fifty years. "The Balcony" itself may be known to some from the 1963 Joseph Strick movie adaptation that starred Shelly Winters, Peter Falk and Leonard Nemoy.

Joining Prof. Nkanga in the production of this play are scenic designer Gary Decker. A UM Theatre Department faculty member, Mr. Decker's work was previously seen this season in "The Secret Rapture," and can currently be seen in "Guys on Ice" at Detroit's Gem Theatre. BFA theatre student Jessica Gorchow is the show's costume designer. She was a costume assistant for "The Tavern" earlier this season.

Click here to view the The Balcony program as a PDF file

Production Designs
Costume Designs by Jessica Gorchow

Production Photographs