Book Review: The Balcony by Jean Genet (1958)

I bought a copy of this book at a yard sale a year or so back because I thought I didn’t read enough serious drama. Do you know how much serious drama is enough serious drama? Enough to remember that any serious drama is too much serious drama.

This play takes place in a brothel, where people dress as authority figures such as The Bishop, The Judge, and The General to get their rocks off on the trappings of power. When the revolution comes, the madame of the brothel must act as the Queen and these people must impersonate the actual offices they impersonate–and they like it. Those wacky post-WWII French.

Unfortunately, when drama’s built too heavily on Concept, with bunches of archetypes crowding a sparse stage and spitting out philosophy, I find myself lamenting the hard seat I’m in, and I’m in a recliner. That’s something my old drama professor taught me–that your play has to drag the audience along, and if the audience starts noticing the theatre and its accommodations, you’ve written a bad play. Unfortunately, most modernist and intellectual drama suffers from this when the playwright focuses too much on communicating his ideas and not enough on creating drama.

Give me an Ibsen, a Jonson, or a Shakespeare; a play where something happens to people, and later on, if you want to think about it, you can find some comment on the human condition. Reading this piece by Genet, on the other hand, is like reading an Existentialist op-ed on authority. Sure, I can see the message, but not the entertainment.