The Balcony opens in a brothel, The Grand Balcony, that caters to the fantasies of its male clientele. Irma, the owner of the whorehouse, is arguing with a customer over a fee. He is dressed as a bishop, and is only interested in the revolution that is going on outside and the truthfulness of the sins the woman who serviced him has confessed to. Irma tries to hurry him, but he will not be rushed. He enjoys his role and continues to play it. He does not leave despite the fact that his safety is at risk outside.
Inside a room in the brothel, a client plays out a fantasy as a Judge. His whore plays a thief who is about to be executed by the executioner, played by a male employee of the establishment named Arthur. The Judge also relishes his role-play. Every outside noise, however, upsets him. He worries about the revolution, sharing the latest information with the other two. When he returns to his role, he can enjoy it too much, scaring the woman. Mostly, the Judge is the one who is humiliated by the other two for his pleasure.
In another room, Irma arranges the setting for the liking of a client who plays a General. Though he is concerned about his safety, he is equally obsessed about the details of his fantasy, and wants them followed to the letter. The General’s whore is nearly naked and acts like his horse.
Another client acts out his fantasy as a tramp. He looks at his reflection in three mirrors, and is very happy when his whore hands him a wig with fleas to wear. Sounds of machine gun fire are heard in the background.
Inside Irma’s room, she is going over accounts with her bookkeeper Carmen, who used to be one of her whores. Irma worries that her lover, George, who is also the Chief of Police, has not shown up yet. She notices that Carmen has changed recently. Carmen tells her she is not happy. She did not like the rules that Irma set up for the women that work at the brothel. They cannot talk about what they do or laugh. Carmen also misses her daughter.
While they talk, Irma checks in on her clients via a device similar to a closed-circuit monitoring system. Irma is rather callous towards Carmen’s feelings. She only cares about her business and her material possessions. Carmen tries to explain her problems with the roles she has been required to play, but Irma does really care. She is preoccupied by the revolution going on outside, and the imminent appearance of George.
Irma attempts to appease Carmen by offering her a role as Saint Theresa for a nice client. Carmen is flattered, but only sees the futility of their work. Irma talks proudly about the power of her ‘‘house of illusions’’ and tells Carmen that she is one of the best of her employees. Sounds of fighting between the rebels and the army grow louder. Irma worries about what will happen if the rebels win. She wants Carmen to die with her, but Carmen only wants to flee and find her daughter.
Carmen reports about the other girls to Irma. Irma asks particularly about Chantal, who left the brothel to join the rebellion. Irma worries that her brothel is being watched. Their conversation is interrupted by Arthur, who plays the Executioner. His work is finished, and he wants money to pay for silk shirts he has ordered. Irma says she will give him funds if he goes and looks for George at his
headquarters. She also wants to know what is going on in the streets. Arthur goes, despite his fears. Just after Arthur leaves, the George (Chief of Police) shows up. George reports that the palace is surrounded and the Queen is in hiding. He is ambivalent about that situation because he is more concerned about the fantasies being acted out in the whorehouse. He wants to know if anyone has wanted to imitate him. He becomes angry when the answer is negative, though Irma tries to soothe his ego. George vows to prove his worth as a leader and keep killing so that clients will want to be the Chief of Police in their fantasy.
(The entire section is 1,326 words.)