Translated by Bernard Frechtman
Directed by Ben Fuchsen
At Oracle Productions, Chicago
Strong acting saves Genet’s masterpiece
Using Bernard Frechtman’s translation of Jean Genet’s 1947 The Maids, director Ben Fuchsen chose two men to play the maids as per usual with this French play. Add Max Truax’s junk-filled boudoir set and The Maids is ready for adventure.
The two maids (sisters actually) role-play their fantasies concerning The Mistress. These games feature one sister playing The Mistress as the other sister plays herself. The roles then are reversed. We see how the line between admiration, love, contempt and loathing becomes obscured during the role-playing. Playwright Genet gives each of the maids—Rich Logan (Solenge) and her little sister Claire (John Arthur Lewis) long speeches that vividly depict their emotional shifts that become tedious and redundant quickly. This was caused by starting the play at a high emotional peek leaving no where to go. At first I was fascinated with the writing and the paranoia and obsession expressed by the servants. Slowly we hear about a possible crime committed upon the Mistress’ lover. Was it done by one of the maids? The rambling speeches become hard to concentrate on.
Sahs Grishkovs pompous take on the arrogance and loathing of The Mistress added fuel to the maid’s hatred. Rich Logan’s seething rage underplayed nicely through Scolange. John Arthur Lewis plays Claire’s delusional role-playing effectively in these well-crafted sequences. As the line between fantasy and reality begins to disintegrate, the role-playing could get violent. Genet’s themes revolve around class status, jealousy, resentment, sexual tension, insanity and murder.
My only problem with this expertly acted show was the lack of dramatic tension due mainly to the long, often rambling speeches. With a tighter pace and some edits, the suspense element could move The Maids from an absurdist drama into a fine thriller. As now played, we are never quite sure what is at stake here. The sophisticated role-playing ritual was superbly staged by Ben Fuschen and nicely acted by Logan and Lewis. The sexual implications and the personal catharsis were strongly hinted. The Maids is, indeed, an actor’s showcase featuring both Lewis and Logan playing females. The performances keep the show alive for me. I believe The Maids is an wordy work that suffers from too little dramatic action. Kudos to Logan and Lewis for their emotionally wrenching performances.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: March 15, 2012
For more info checkout The Maids page on theatreinchicago.com