The Madwoman of Chaillot, known to her friends as Countess Aurelia, spends her days frequenting a local café and wandering around her crumbling mansion putting on outlandish and outdated costumes. Half bag lady and half nobility, the Countess lives in a fantasy world of her own creation.
Giraudoux wrote this play in response to French anger at the end of World War II when it became known that many French businessmen collaborated with the Nazis for significant monetary gain. The Countess functions as the voice of the innocent French who felt betrayed but had no recourse for revenge. Although the play seems naïve and surreal, it takes an oddball character like the Countess to pull off a revenge scheme when ordinary French people were helpless to change the past.
Upon hearing businessmen striking up a shady, multimillion dollar deal to dig for oil in the Countess’ beloved Paris, the Countess decides it is up to her to save the world from such evil minds. She enlists the help of the other café regulars, street performers, and other madwomen to lure all the businessmen of Paris to her home on the pretenses of showing them an oil well beneath her home. One of the delightful aspects of this play is that other districts of Paris and nogbt just Chaillot have their own local madwomen/Countesses. All the aging Countesses have their own quirks, but they all seem to go way back to a time the reader imagines as more magical than post-war France.
Once at her home, the Countess and friends set up the basement of the mansion to look like a business deal is going to take place. The businessmen arrive, followed by the press. The Countess shows them all the entrance of the tunnel in her basement, presumably leading to the underground tunnels or sewers of Paris, and insists they walk in to see. Once all the men are inside, the Countess seals off the entrance to trap them inside forever.