THE BALCONY, Thirteenth Tribe, at the Chopin Theatre. A man in a bishop's miter and robe gets head from a Rocky Horror-esque prostitute: the opening image of this Thirteenth Tribe production demonstrates the company's fundamental misunderstanding of Jean Genet's titanic masterpiece The Balcony. In Genet's fantasy the Bishop, like his fellow brothel customers the Judge and the General, gets off on the trappings and functions of office, not on a cheap blow job. Western civilization is entombed in Madame Irma's strictly run bordello, its leaders' power preserved through ceremonial eroticization; here the ultimate aphrodisiacs are the abilities to judge, condemn, massacre, and die gloriously. But in director Joanna Settle's "revolutionary new adaptation," Genet's towering icons of our death-loving culture shrink to horny old men with kinky dress-up fetishes. The playwright's scathing political indictments degenerate into a hollow satire of sexual compulsiveness.
Designer Michael E. Downs creates a sublime environment for the show, all garish colors, spinning mirrors, and ceremonial candles--part cathedral, part whorehouse, part mausoleum. Yet little of the set's tawdry solemnity, so central to the spirit of Genet's play, bleeds over into the performances. Instead the cast meander through scenes that refuse to build, resorting to endless crotch grabbings and fake orgasms, performing with the kind of over-the-top undercommitment that makes a Saturday Night Live skit so unconvincing. In the process they trivialize one of the greatest works of modern drama.