Indiscretions (Les Parents Terribles)

Not many directors have the talent to take a play written during an eight-day opium binge and make perfect sense out of it, but Ed Baierlein succeeds with Jean Cocteau's Indiscretions by doing what few others would dare—moving the piece from its firmly rooted Parisian delusions of 1938 to a present-day southern U.S. metropolis, perhaps New Orleans.

There, we find a family so dysfunctional that it would make Tennessee Williams and Eugene O'Neill blush; so dysfunctional, in fact, that we are forced to see the play as a genre apart, a blend of surreal farce and subconscious personification. Put simply, the characters act out their Oedipus and Electra complexes as if such yearnings are everyday behavioral standards.

(Left to right) Erica Sarzin-Borrillo as Yvonne, Leroy Leonard as George, and Chip Winn Wells as Leo
(L to R) Erica Sarzin-Borrillo as Yvonne,
Leroy Leonard as George,
and Chip Winn Wells as Leo
Photo: Germinal Stage Denver
Placing the play in the Gulf region plays into our prejudices toward the behavior of proletarian whites we assume to be found there, much as if Blanche DuBois and Stanley Kowalski started a family together, with Stella as the sister-interloper, as part of a case study for the treatment of psychosis and depression; only in this case, we have Yvonne (Erica Sarzin-Borrillo) and George (Leroy Leonard) as the shadow and the libido and Leo (Chip Winn Wells) as the conscience.

Baierlein's precedent for such an adaptation is his own 1999 production of Williams' Suddenly Last Summer done in Japanese Noh style (in which Sarzin-Borrillo also appeared); once again, a seemingly incongruous juxtaposition reveals the universal truths of the story.

Sarzin-Borrillo taps into a stream-of-consciousness dream-state that brings normalcy and naturalness to Yvonne's instinctive impulses, as if such expressions of our deepest taboos are at home in everyday interactions, while Leonard's understated dead-pan drawl has a similar effect in pardoning the anti-social impulses of George's unrestrained male libido. It's easy to see why translator Jeremy Sams felt that the original title would give the English-speaking world the wrong impression, since the intellectual muscle required to grasp Cocteau's multi-level psychological metaphor seems to have atrophied with the passing of the Expressionists of the Weimar and Fauvists of the Left Bank.

Kirsten Deane as Madeleine and Royce Wood as Michael
Kirsten Deane as Madeleine
and Royce Wood as Michael
Photo: Germinal Stage Denver
Innocence and transparency prove to be the emotional solvent for Royce Wood as he reconciles the qualities of Yvonne and George in their son, Michael, an unconscious emotional roller coaster careening from infatuation to despondency. Michael is drawn to Madeleine (Kirsten Deane), the Electra-animus counterpart to his Oedipal-anima forces. Deane is a crack-up, in her seductive Sally Diamond outfits, popping her bubble gum to punctuate the proceedings, as Madeleine, like Michael, struggles with the transition from youth to adult.

With striking silver hair set off by her all-black costumes and a gold crucifix, Wells' Leo operates as a stand in for the higher self, reconciling the "family" conflicts by forcing the shadow to honestly confront its dark nature, facilitating the integration of the self, in all its unadorned grotesque beauty, as only Cocteau could see it.

Cocteau's prescience, in leveraging psychological imperatives to explicate the cultural weaknesses of his native France on the verge of falling victim to Nazi dementia, much as Chekhov's exposure of the denial of the Russian aristocracy on the verge of the Czarist downfall, produces a cautionary tale worth serious consideration by the moneyed classes that delude themselves into thinking their hegemony over American society is unassailable. As Cocteau cryptically reveals, where the imperatives of the psyche lead, society follows.

Germinal Stage Denver's Indiscretions runs through June 12th. 303-455-7108.

Bob Bows


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