By Jean Genet. translation by Bernard Fetchman
Produced by Scena Theatre
Reviewed by Janice Cane
Have you ever seen that “Friends” episode where the gang watches the premiere of struggling actor Joey’s new TV show, “Mac and Cheese”? The show is so lacking in the quality department that the friends argue over who gets to compliment the lighting, because they cannot come up with anything else to say.
Where am I going with this? Well, let’s just say the lighting in Scena Theatre’s production of The Maids is well executed.
The set is pretty good, too.
Of course, it isn’t fair to compare any theatrical production to a sitcom, let alone a prime example of absurdist theater. It’s clear enough what The Maids is about: the struggle for freedom from oppression. And no wonder; Genet’s background lent itself perfectly to such a theme. His prostitute mother abandoned him as an infant, and after years in foster care he landed in and out of prison for various minor crimes. With such a life, I would have expected a more compelling story, but Genet fails to deliver.
I turned to the director’s note for answers, but Gabriele Jakobi’s rambling paragraph in the program is so laden with typos, grammatical errors, and incomplete sentences that it is incomprehensible-except for the part where she gives away the ending. I could not even discern the facts of the true story upon which The Maids is based; Jakobi says two sisters, working as maids, killed their “madame” in 1947 in Paris, but the dramaturgical note says the murder occurred in 1933 in Mans. (I believe Jakobi meant to write that Genet penned the play in 1947.)
Regardless of the date, Genet recreated the scenario with a twist. In The Maids, the sisters do not succeed in their ghastly mission as the real Papin sisters did. Instead, we see Claire playacting as the despised madame-blond wig, red velvet dress and all-and Solange pretending to be Claire, preparing to kill her. They get so wrapped up in the details of their hatred, however, that they run out of time to simulate the act. In real life, Solange once attempted to kill their condescending, unsympathetic madame but failed, and once the game of make believe is over and the madame returns, it will be Claire’s turn to try. Claire also fails, so in the end she kills herself with the same poisoned cup of tea meant for madame.
Another twist is the strange eroticism the sisters share – at one point, they kiss. Perhaps they are simply finding an outlet for pent-up emotions or sexuality, but this detail adds nothing to the plot except distraction.
Scena did not choose a particularly enjoyable play to watch. Understandably, but unfortunately, the actresses do not seem to particularly enjoy acting in it, either. The evening I attended the show-after opening night-Jenifer Deal (Claire) and Nanna Ingvarsson (Solange) still seemed to be moving through a dress rehearsal. Ingvarsson stumbled over enough lines that it became noticeable, and both performers lacked energy-in contrast to Danielle Davy, who in her brief appearance as Madame livened things up.
Davy’s Madame would certainly be difficult for a servant to tolerate, but both the playwright and the actresses fail to show how things are so bad that the sisters feel they must resort to murder. Genet seems eager to make a political statement, as he was well known to do, but his effort falls flat. Murder and suicide just seem too extreme in this case because the sense of desperation that should permeate the entire 90-minute, single-act play is not conveyed effectively.
(Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission)
Where: Warehouse Theater, 1021 7th Street N.W., Washington, DC.
When: thru December 16. Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m.
Tickets: $25 – $30.
Info: Call 703-683-2824 or visit the website.