Descending through the depths of Adams House en route to the Kronauer Space, one feels transported to the world of Jean Genet’s The Maids; audience members, with much the same feeling as the title characters, enter poorly lit rooms attached to a house of luxury. Those audience members are quite fortunate, however, for they have the privilege of a thoroughly engaging environmental production which enthralls for the entirety of its brief running-time.
This small-scale production of The Maids starts truly in medias res, with the action kicking into high gear, and never slowing, once one enters the creative set/theater/stage. The simple set is truly a wonder, providing the perfect arena for the maids’ stealthy, furtive dialogue, in which the audience glimpses scenes that the characters believe are secreted.
Claire, portrayed by Rim Abida ’04, is scheming and coursing with intense energy. Abida’s performance offers a perfect counterpoint to the dark and pensive Solange of Kayla Y. Rosen ’04, who helps evoke an atmosphere in which deceit appears natural and sitting on the edge of the seat is mandatory.
As the scenes progress, Claire, who enjoys play-acting as their Madame, sparks Solange’s untapped passion, and Solange, in turn, pushes Claire deeper and deeper into her adopted role. Together, they plot to murder Madame, who embodies the upper-class lifestyle that has robbed them of their sense of identity.
Rosen especially shines in these sequences, shedding her elusive guise and emerging as a powerful figure that commands the attention of all those in the theater, on stage and off. As Abida plays off of her, the duo create a riveting electricity that assails an audience torn between pity, shock and amazement, and which itself acts as an extra, voyeuristic character in the play.
The play’s final stretch is ignited by the appearance of Madame (Eugenie E. Suter ’02), who seems to have been imported straight from a French Salon—assertive, affected, in charge, and yet, helpless. It is this odd mix that informs her relationship with Claire and Solange, whom she sends into a frenzy of servile activity, while she remains preoccupied with her own affairs.
Suter’s Madame ideally fits the image conjured by the maids’ dialogue; she is an overbearing presence on the maids and the audience. One can understand, if not openly condone, the desire to dispatch her into nothingness.
Additionally, the play’s abrupt end leaves the audience members with much to digest, as they have been separated from characters who mentally, as well as physically, inhabited their world.
Instrumental to the play’s success is its ability to showcase the three actresses, all of whom are in close contact with the audience but never miss a beat. Their only acknowledgements of the audience, in fact, are motivated by the text, and occur when a sense of being watched appropriately increases their anxiety and tension.
Due to the seating, one can see each and every expression, tick and discreet glance of the actresses, which is a treat as they convincingly embody their respective characters.
The lone drawback to the production is the unfortunate fact that only a lucky 40 people have the pleasure of participating each weekend; but that sacrifice is necessary for the intimacy of the production.
A one act play, lasting just over an hour, The Maids is a classic of French theater and loses little in translation: Just remember that the French word for maid is bonne, and so when the maids are mentioned there is a correlation to the concept expressed by the English translation “good.”
And so, the best way to sum up this production, and with the evocation of the local coffee shop only incidental, c’est bon.
written by Jean Genet
Through October 20
Adams House Kronauer Space
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