It’s easy to see what the set of The Salonnières is trying to do. It’s an opulent room filled with ornate couches and chairs—Renaissance paintings hung on the walls. But the most striking aspect of this set, designed by Katy Monthei, is its boundaries. The room is set on a raised stage and walled by thin gold bars rising out of the floor to meet at a point on the top. It looks like a birdcage at the Greater Boston Stage Company.
And when the Liz Duffy Adams’ play—directed by Weylin Simes—begins to hit its stride, it’s clear that The Salonnières is trying to use this set to its symbolic advantage. Three aristocratic women gather in a salon in pre-revolution Paris to talk and tell stories. As the backstory of these characters unfold, the stories they tell begin to take on an allegorical quality. The young and naive Madeleine de Sauveterre (Elainy Mata) has been promised to marry the much older Duc de la Beauchene (Bill Mootos). She is joined by Henriette, the Comtesse de Mare (Laura Latreille) and Gabrielle, the Marquise D’Aulney (Sarah Newhouse). The two older and more experienced women seek to guide her through their stories—often featuring a princess and a beast (or at least a prince who acts like one).
Here is when The Salonnières begins to come together. The play gets to toy with the ideas of fairy tales while acting one out itself; it can make what seem to be modern feminist critiques through the lens of 18th-century France; and it can wax poetic on class differences. These women, especially Francoise the maid (Lisa Joyce), are songbirds. Each is trapped in its own golden cage—surrounded by opulent scenery but unable to fly. Instead they must sing—telling stories to each other to lift their spirits and to provide entertainment.
But instead of a biting social commentary, The Salonnières turns into a rehash of older feminist tropes. Joyce nearly steals the show, but she and the other characters are clipped by the dialogue and the plot. It’s simply birdsong—pretty to listen to, but filled with little meaning.
THE SALONNIERES. THROUGH 11.11 AT GREATER BOSTON STAGE COMPANY, 395 MAIN ST., STONEHAM. GREATERBOSTONSTAGE.ORG