When I first walked into The Maids I didn’t remember what had compelled me to request it back when Buddies released their 2011-2012 season, but I often enjoy walking into theatre blind. In this case it would have helped to remind myself. The context of this play is crucial: it was written by Jean Genet, a prominent figure in queer history who wrote highly stylized plays dealing with class/race/sexual oppression. The Maids was written in 1947, loosely based on a true story of two maids murdering their -allegedly- abusive mistress in 1933.
The servitude depicted in the play is one we cannot identify with in modern times – one expects even Donald Trump removes his own shoes – and there is no attempt to update the play to be relevant to class oppression as it currently exists. There is some commentary embedded in casting a male, Ron Kennell, as one of the maids. However the press release claims this cross-gender casting is true to Genet’s original intent, and this seems absolutely credible and appropriate given Genet’s reputation for gender-fucking.
I think members of a modern audience may find it challenging to maintain attention during the many long abstract-poetical monologues. However, these speeches are delivered with considerable prowess by the actors; Kennel who was already mentioned and Diane D’Aquila as the other maid, and to a lesser extent, Maria Ricossa as their mistress who appears in the middle of the show and then disappears again. The words are beautiful and they are delivered beautifully, if you have the mental focus to pay attention to long-winded, high-concept elocution.
The production elements are subtly fantastic. When you enter, the stage is hidden by a large pink curtain and when it is opened the bedroom depicted inside is also entirely in shades of pink. Every little ashtray is perfect; all the objects suit their surroundings and give the impression of 1930’s wealth. The other amazing element is the sound. The dark and disturbing nature of the play is constantly underlined by very eerie underlying music.
This show is probably a must-watch if you are a fan of Genet, but otherwise it may seem a little dated. I was a bit confused as to what the point of it all was while watching and it was only after the show when I looked at the program and saw who it was by, when it was written and what it was based on, that I began to appreciate it in hindsight.
– The Maids is playing at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre (12 Alexander Street) until October 9, 2011
– Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm, with matinees on Sundays at 2:30 pm
– Ticket prices range from $23 – $33, with PWYC on Sundays
– Tickets are available online, or through the box office at 416 975-8555.
Photo credit to Jeremy Mimnagh. In photo Maria Ricossa and Ron Kennell