I’m generally of the mind that if you need to over-explain things in a program note that you haven’t done a good enough job telling the story on stage. However, when you’re doing things that are intentionally ambiguous or open to numerous interpretations I feel like I need to be plain about that since generally we are trained to be very linearly focused on things like plot when we take in stories. There’s certainly a plot here, but when it comes to characters, their realities, the overall reality (or unreality) of what we’re witnessing here it’s not something we can all put a finger on and go, “oh, yeah, that.” Here is the primer I am offering audiences who are coming to The Maids (sorry to everyone who did NOT see this in the programs of the first preview, I was still working on this):
Jean Paul Sartre tells us that Jean Genet would have preferred these maids be played by young men in drag. He would have also likely wanted you to see signs here at the theater like those included in his novels: “Watch out. These are creatures of my imagination. They don’t exist.” These attempts to alienate an audience were, I believe, a lot more important and a lot more effective when he wrote this play in 1947. Consider that Beckett was not that far away from Genet working on Waiting for Godot at the same time.
We don’t need to be reminded of theater’s artifice and illusion in the same way today. In fact, I’d argue we already make this move too easily. I am, as a person not just a theater artist, attracted to liminal space, third space, ambiguity, and uncertainty. These states allow for new possibilities, for conversations based on our unique standpoints and interpretations.
I have seen two productions of The Maids. One went far to make it hypersexual, essentially assaulting the audience (and each other) with a BDSM show. The other reveled in its outright weirdness, reaching as far as it could for the absurd. I feel like both approaches leave too much on the table and run the risk of distancing broader audiences while really offering nothing new to those looking for kink or the bizarre. The audience’s mind is a powerful thing and we’ve worked hard to look for the ways to build suspense and mystery, to tease and entice, in the hopes that it generates intensely unique reactions and conversation. What we offer you here for the next 90 minutes is for you to decipher. Your findings cannot be wrong.
One thing to consider: in Genet’s plays it is important to remember that every character plays a role of a character who plays a role. That base character is also inhabited by a living, breathing actor. You will encounter all those shards of persona in all three of these performers.
To me this play gets at some really interesting things: the masks we wear in daily life, taboos, daily rituals, duplicity, our binary nature (master/servant, criminal/saint, Madame/Monsieur, reality/fantasy, good/evil). I am very, very interested in hearing what you get out of it. The play has a lot to say if you’re listening – an easy thing to do with Frechtman’s poetic translation of this literary masterpiece.
Please email your thoughts or send us a comment over your preferred channel of social media!