The Balcony  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Balcony (Le Balcon) is a 1956 play by Jean Genet.

Most of the action takes place in a special brothel that the madam refers to as a "house of illusions". The brothel is constructed of various rooms where "scenes" or role-plays are acted out by the patrons. Genet uses this setting to explore roles of power in society, for example, in one of the more sadomasochistic scenes a patron assumes the role of a judge who is punishing a thief, and the roles of the judge, executioner, and criminal are explored. Meanwhile, as these scenes unfold, there is a revolution going on outside in the city, and the occupants of the brothel are anxiously awaiting the coming of the Chief of Police. Genet also explores the role of the image in modern society as one of the prostitutes, Chantal, quits the brothel and becomes the embodiment of the spirit of the revolution. The Chief of Police eventually appears and it is revealed to the occupants of the brothel that the leaders of society (the Queen, the Bishop, the General, etc.) have all been killed, and using the ornaments in the house of illusions, the patrons' roles are realized.

The play was originally produced in London, England, in 1957, at the Arts Theatre where it had to be arranged to be performed at a "private club" to get around the Lord Chamberlain's ban on public performances of the play. Genet himself participated in the theatrics by accusing the director of ruining his play during the opening night performance. The production received mixed reviews. Genet preferred the Peter Brook production in Paris, France, in 1960. The New York stage production was based on Brook's version. Translated by Bernard Frechtman, the play had its New York première, Off-Broadway, at the Circle in the Square Downtown theatre. It was directed by José Quintero and featured Nancy Marchand, Grayson Hall, Sylvia Miles, Arthur Malet and Salome Jens.

A film version directed by Joseph Strick was released in 1963. It starred Shelley Winters, Peter Falk, Lee Grant and Leonard Nimoy.


In November 1961, Genet met the American film director Joseph Strick, with whom he agreed to a cinematic adaption of the play. The film version of The Balcony was released in 1963, directed by Strick. It starred Shelley Winters, Peter Falk, Lee Grant and Leonard Nimoy. The film garnered nominations for George J. Folsey for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography and for Ben Maddow for a Writers Guild of America Award award.

Robert DiDomenica composed an operatic version of the play in 1972, though it did not receive its première until Sarah Caldwell of the Opera Company of Boston produced it in 1990. Having seen the New York production of the play in 1960, DiDomenica based his libretto on Bernard Frechtman's revised translation of 1966, though he did not acquire the rights to do so until shortly before Genet's death, in 1986. A reviewer for The New York Times found the production "a wonderfully intelligent construct, overlaid with a lyrical and dramatic sensibility that makes searing emotional contact at many crucial points." Mignon Dunn played Irma and Susan Larson played Carmen.

In 2001/02, the Hungarian composer Peter Eötvös created an opera based on the French version of the play. It was staged for the first time at the Festival d'Aix en Provence on 5 July 2002.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Balcony" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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