Story: Solange and Claire toil in frustrated anonymity for their aristocratic French mistress. The years have taken a heavy toil emotionally on the domestic sisters, to the point that they now are plotting the murder of their mistress. The latter believes that she treats her servants with kindness and compassion, but in reality her gestures are little more than diversions she makes while awaiting news of her lover and his various bouts with the law.
While their lady’s boudoir is ostentatiously filled with an array of floral arrangements, it feels more like a prison to Claire and Solange, a cell where they rehearse repeatedly their plot to kill their mistress and free themselves from her patronizing shackles before escaping their stifling bitterness, loneliness and unhappiness into the freedom of the night.
Highlights: An English translation by playwright Martin Crimp allows access to this one-act drama by 20th century French writer Jean Genet, whose work was so sexually explicit and politically controversial that it was banned in the United States in the mid-20th century. Polish director Wieslaw Gorski, who previously directed the world premiere production of The Polish Egg Man for Upstream Theater, has the pleasure of harnessing the substantial energies and artistic talents of performers Emily Baker, Brooke Edwards and Elizabeth Townsend in a bizarre and intoxicating presentation of Genet’s politically charged work in the current Upstream interpretation.
Other Info: Designer Jason Coale’s elaborate bedroom set is anchored by an opulent bed surrounded by bouquets of varying flowers, with omnipresent petals even showered upon the bed itself, offset by handsomely papered walls at the rear. Glenn Dunn’s lighting lavishly illuminates the room that props master Robert van Dillen fills with everything from an elegant teapot to a utilitarian black phone.
Chris Limber’s sound design washes in familiar street sounds through an unseen door to the outside, a door the performers mysteriously enter and exit with no apparent effort to open or close it. Michele Siler’s lavish gowns for the mistress contrast sharply with the drab uniforms of the title characters, even if Solange sports an expertly polished pair of shoes.
Gorski’s pacing of the 90-minute, one-act production can be overly reverential, a little too precious as the actresses move Genet’s story of class envy and mutual misery forward. Still, it’s a treat to observe Baker, Edwards and Townsend savor every morsel of the arresting dialogue, matching the chilling words of the servants with menacing and subversive gestures that recall the macabre spirit of Marat/Sade. The story moves mysteriously to the point that one isn’t quite sure at certain points if a murder has been perpetrated or it’s all merely a ruse. What’s never in debate is the quality of performance by Gorski’s trio of inspired players, who succeed gloriously in showing the cruelly egalitarian ability of misery and unhappiness to permeate all strata of society.
Once again, Upstream Theater succeeds in its stated mission of providing stories for its audience that “move you, and move you to think.”
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Play: The Maids
Group: Upstream Theater
Venue: Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand at Olive
Dates: February 23, 24, 25, 26, March 1, 2, 3, 4
Tickets: $15-$25; contact 863-4999 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos courtesy of Peter Wochniak