Review | The Maids: pure energy

Dark & Stormy Productions, 77 13th Ave NE, though Feb 17

Jane Froiland and Sara Marsh in THE MAIDS. Photo by Rich Ryan.

Like all of Dark & Stormy Productions plays, Jean Genet‘s The Maids is done in a small, empty office space in the old Grain Belt Brewery (77 13th Ave NE, Minneapolis, through Feb 17). The space is intimate. The actors are rarely more than 15 feet away. Plays here are always about the performances. The rarely performed 1947 drama The Maids, like Sam Shepherd’s plays, is breathless, dreamily vicious and has a terrible, hard-to-summarize, repetitious perhaps, but still displays a dark and wondrous beauty.

Two uniformed – and thus locked into their servitude – maids, sisters, Claire and Solange, act out their screeching hatred/admiration of Madame, their wealthy employer. Their… bitchiness (not the right word, but if I can think of a better one, I’ll delete this sentence) knows no bounds. They try on rebellious red dresses, prepare poisoned tea (or “tay”, which I assumed to be the same thing). And they talk, scathingly. Claire and Solange, and later Madame herself are irrevocably trapped in the roles society gives them. As hard as they try, they can never escape. We watch, we squirm. We sweat.

In keeping with the intimate spirit of the space, set designer Katie Phillips gives us a nifty four-poster bed, a small vanity, some fake flowers, a small but significant footstool – and nothing else. The action of The Maids revolves around these pieces. I couldn’t – and no doubt I’m not alone here – take my eyes off these beautifully nasty women. The theater is kept warm. Is this an accident? I don’t think so. It gave me a hankering to give the performers ice water.

Also, like all of D&S’s productions, this one features actor Sara Marsh. Marsh plays Solange and while I, cynical critic that I am, was prepared not to like her, her sneaky charm, her understated readiness to skewer her shrill sister with an invisible knife (and a sly smile), won me over. (Marsh also directs, and her grasp of this flighty and not-easy material is excellent.)

The always terrific Jane Froiland plays Claire. She starts out sexy and malicious and whether this ferocity is maintained or whether it becomes over-the-topness is a matter of taste. Myself, I adore Froiland and stayed with her. At first I was slightly put off by Emily Bridges‘s Madame – too breathy, too hiccupy, too buttoned down. But she grew on me, and I came to love her frumpy 1950s dress and her charming self-centeredness. When Solange returned with bloody gloves, my heart stood still.

Can I recommend The Maids? This is a tough call. The production is funny, its saving grace. The performances are first rate. But the play is scattered, and repetitive. And, in parts, it must be said, tedious. It is also, imo, too dependent on its sources: Camus, Sartre, Beckett, etc.

Still, the answer is yes. Keep your expectations modest (remember: these are first rate actors) and you will enjoy The Maids.

John Olive is a writer living in Minneapolis. His book, Tell Me A Story In The Dark, about the magic of bedtime stories, has been published. Please visit John’s informational website.

 

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