Audience members left awed after The Maids production
The Maids is a one-act play with all the highbrow intellectualism, interpretative dancing, and incestuous undertones an unsuspecting theater-goer could ask for.
The first word that came to my mind upon entering the theater was “intimate.” The moderately-sized performance space, laid out like a lavish bedroom, was lit in soft purple and overhung with metallic arches. The most striking thing about the set was the tinfoil partially covering the arches and much of the bedroom furniture. The thin layer of silvery tinfoil over rusting metal and dull wood suggested to me a façade of glamorousness, peeling to reveal the corruption beneath.
The Maids is, after all, centered around the idea of false, assumed identity. Though I went into this production familiar with Jean Genet’s 1947 play about sister maids plotting to murder their employer, I can imagine the confusion of unacquainted audience members. The relationship between the sisters, Solange, played by junior acting major Cara Ronzetti, and Claire, played by senior acting major Cathryn Dylan, is difficult to pin down. It shifts rapidly from sisterly to maternal to sexual, keeping the audience constantly in a state of unease.
The performative nature of Solange and Claire’s relationship becomes most evident in their “Ceremony.” In this role-playing game, each in turn assumes the role of the dominant “Madame” and the submissive “Claire,” the former prancing around in their mistress’s best gown and abusing the other in a way that can only be described as sadomasochistic. The culmination of the game — the final, quite literally sexual release at play’s end — shifts their power dynamics once more as “Claire” rises up and acts upon her homicidal urges toward “Madame.”
Both lead actresses shone in their dynamic roles, and junior acting major Caroline Pluta was a breath of fresh air as the self-absorbed but well-intentioned Madame. Solange showed off her fantastic range during Solange’s final monologue. For the five-minute-long speech, during which a mentally-unhinged Solange addresses a variety of characters in a variety of roles, Solange was the car crash the audience simply could not look away from.
As suggested by the role playing at the core of its plot, The Maids tackles a host of complicated issues including identity, sexuality, gender, and class, and how they are all essentially “performed” in society. Essentially, this play is so ripe for analysis that it’s a Sparknotes dream come true.
The audience is introduced to the play’s multitude of themes when the two main actresses dawdle onstage in their underthings, before donning their respective costumes and launching into performance. Prior to the first line being spoken, they perform a bizarre, blank-faced interpretative dance to the oppressive beat of The Velvet Underground. The meaning behind this interesting stylistic choice was unclear until the same dance sequence was performed upon the first entrance of Madame about midway through the play. It clicked all at once that the dance was a necessary step for each character — and actress — to assume their “roles.”
The Velvet Underground music that played throughout (most notably “I’ll Be Your Mirror”) was one facet of the production’s intriguing blend of time periods. The juxtaposition of decades was also suggested by the program, which featured fictionalized correspondence between Andy Warhol and Genet dated 1969. While Madame’s smart blue suit and coiffed up-do is true to the play’s year of setting and to her stature, the maids sport ’60s bobs and bangs that only serve to highlight the separation between them and Madame.
The Maids is an ambitious play that is perhaps literary to a fault, but nevertheless this production of it was undoubtedly skillful. You may leave the theater uncomfortable and a little bit confused by the substance of this play, but you will leave without a doubt entranced in the artistry of those who brought it to life.