by Jean Genet
in a new translation by Martin Crimp
directed by Adriana Baer
January 20 – February 25, 2006
at the EXIT Stage Left
Based on a famous double-murder case, Jean Genet’s 1947 play explores the dark and romantic side of master/servant relationships. When their mistress is away, sisters and maids Solange and Claire perform a violent and expressive ritual. The game, deadly and captivating, allows the girls to act out their desire to murder both their employer and themselves. Genet, always challenging his society, dares his audience not to blink as an impossible idea suddenly becomes tangible reality.
Martin Crimp’s translation uses the revised ending Genet wrote for the play’s first production, and is the only English translation that uses this ending. In this sleek, intense, and forceful new translation, West Coast audiences will finally see Genet’s play as he originally intended.
Set Design by Erik Flatmo
Costume Design by Claire Calderwood
Lighting Design by Heather Basarab
Sound Design by Micaela Neus
Stage Managed by Laura Davis
Assistant Set Design by Robert McPhee
Graphic Design by Debra Singer
"The Maids… is now enjoying a run at Exit Stage Left under the capable production of the Cutting Ball Theater, one of San Francisco's most daring, and literate, troupe of dramaturgists around."
– SF Station
"The Cutting Ball is one of the more ambitious and talented companies currently presenting works in the Bay Area. They are not afraid to tackle the complex indeed, they seem to relish the challenge"
– Bay Times
"The Cutting Ball Theater's crisp, elegantly staged production affirms its still-compelling style and darkly poetic force and Adriana Baer's taut, intelligent direction makes the most of playwright Martin Crimp's bracing new translation."
– SF Bay Guardian
A Dangerous Game of Dress-Up at Exit Stage Left
By Nirmala Nataraj (02/10/2006)
Early twentieth century playwright Jean Genet was a devilish provocateur whose works belong to the realm of high concept tragedy but encompass all the vulgar fodder of the low-brow, including tawdry tales of prostitutes, thieves, homosexuals, and other social "deviants". Genet's play The Maids is one of the playwright's most sophisticated commentaries on the otherness he was so preoccupied with portraying in his work. The Maids , which is now enjoying a run at Exit Stage Left under the capable production of the Cutting Ball Theater, one of San Francisco's most daring, and literate, troupe of dramaturgists around. The script — in a fluid, poetic translation by Martin Crimp — is putty in director Adriana Baer's hands, and bodes a creepy portrayal of lower-class servitude, sadomasochism, and murder.
The illusory, lyrically dense world of Genet's text is conveyed with obsessive detail by Cutting Ball Theater. The play was based on a famous 1930s crime in Paris, in which two servants conspired to murder their mistress. Genet offers his standard acerbic commentary on the crime, but transforms the act into an incendiary ritual with touches of dark eroticism.
Linnea Wilson plays the young, fallow maid Claire, whose role gradually shifts as the play unfolds and we learn that her innocence is a veneer that hides a perpetual resentment for her station and a volatile temperament that threatens to blow over throughout the course of the drama. Jennifer Stuckert's portrayal as Solange, the older of the two maids, is more muted but infinitely more complex. Stuckert aptly portrays Solange's ambivalence. While Claire's motives are simple to gauge and understand, Solange experiences extremes in emotion — ranging from self-loathing to resignation to pure vitriol for her mistress.
Sigrid Sutter plays "Madame", in a portrayal that's tautly acted but minimal. In the course of the play, the maids take turns acting out the part of "Madame", in a twisted game that allows each to take turns abusing each other. The game is revelatory of the maids' hatred of Madame, but also of their own masochistic inclinations, which are a result of the self-hatred they experience as pawns in an oppressive social hierarchy.
The game of dress-up is also not without purposeful ambiguity. Under Baer's hand, audiences are treated to a bizarre spectacle that leads to a number of questions about who's playing which role and when. Eerily enough, even the "Madame" feels like she's playing a role although she isn't even in on the game.
Crimp's translation offers Genet's revised ending, which should be a treat for Genet fans who aren't familiar with the alternate twist. Baer's impeccable direction, complemented by Eric Flatmo's sparse black box set, keeps the play suspenseful and claustrophobic in its intensity — and true to form in its chilling, deft exploration of social structures and power plays.
at Exit Stage Left
Runs through February 25th
Tickets: $25 regular, $20 students & seniors
156 Eddy Street
San Francisco , CA 94102
Riveting Return of The Maids
By Ed Brownson
Published: January 26, 2006
Every few years, somewhere in the Bay Area, an ambitious small theater company revives Jean Genet’s The Maids, a small masterpiece of power, class, and corruption. It is easy to see why. The play touches themes that remain depressingly relevant no matter how much “progress” our world claims; the cost to mount a production is minimal and the potential artistic rewards, huge; and this is a theater lover’s play—one that attracts audiences sophisticated enough to make knowledgeable judgments of what they see.
Above all, however, The Maids is an actor’s play. A production lives or dies on the performances of the three women portraying two maids and their mistress. No amount of money or props will save a bad production, but the most impoverished of efforts can shine with the right cast and directing.
The Cutting Ball is one of the more ambitious and talented companies currently presenting works in the Bay Area. They are not afraid to tackle the complex – indeed, they seem to relish the challenge. Their production of The Maids at the EXIT Theatre pushes their actors and crew and even the audience to an intensity worthy of Genet’s story and words. Theirs is a marvelous production.
The first thing to notice entering the small EXIT Stage Left theatre is the alley seating: the stage—an acting area, really—is in the center, with the audience on either side, facing actors and each other. This set by Erik Flatmo works brilliantly to this play’s advantage. We have such a sense of witness to the events going on, we become voyeurs, complicit, flushed at our own intrusion.
Director Adriana Baer makes exactly the right choice and allows Genet and the actors to do the work, adding minimal directorial “creativity” to a play that does not need it. She moves the actors about so fluidly, it feeds that voyeur’s sense: we are spying on the real and secret, not watching actors move around a stage. Martin Crimp’s new translation, modern enough we aren’t distracted by archaic phrasings but retaining the force of Genet’s words.
Linnea Wilson is Claire, the younger of the two maids. Wilson’s youthful looks seem at first incompatible with the role, especially during Genet’s misleading first scene. But as the play unfolds, her very innocence works for her, as when Claire asserts herself after the Mistress leaves, showing us an edge rooted in class and resentment that defies age.
Sigrid Sutter is the Mistress. She is the character least on stage, yet there is a special burden to the role: we must see her in her maids’ behavior even when she is not there, even before we realize it is her we are seeing. It isn’t until Sutter has exited and the maids resume their ritual that we realize what we have watched them do is not just an imitation of “a” mistress, but imitation of Sutter’s characterization as Mistress—quite a feat, one that shows how well Sutter performs her role, and how subtly Baer directs her cast.
Jennifer Stuckert is Solange, the older of the two maids. Of the three actors, she is the most consistent and, overall, the most riveting. Solange is the pivotal role in the play. The mistress is but a caricature, if one carefully crafted by Genet, and Claire’s youth and close-to-the-surface anger limit her depth. It is Solange who takes us on the journey from solicitation to disgust that is the servant’s lot. Stuckert walks us – drags us – through these conflicting emotions almost flawlessly.
There have been so many unnecessary revivals in the Bay Area lately, it’s great to see one worthwhile. Scratch that. Cutting Ball’s production of The Maids doesn’t feel like a revival at all. It could have been written yesterday, and this staging could be its premiere.
The Maids continues until Feb. 25 at the EXIT Stage Left, 156 Eddy St., SF. Tickets, call 419-3584 or go to www.cuttingball.com
Beyond good housekeeping
Jean Genet's murderous The Maids lives on, thanks to Cutting Ball
By Robert Avila
"Lean over further and behold your reflection in my shoes." And what better mirror for a servant, you might ask, than the spit-buffed patent leather encasing Madame's foot? With all the heightened, ritualistic flavor of an S&M fantasy, the command — spoken by a maid pretending to be her own mistress, to another maid pretending to be the first — is already rich with the ceaseless role-playing, doubled images, shifting power lines, and volatile desire pervading the world of The Maids.
Of course, Jean Genet's first work for the stage is nearly 60 years old, and doubtless does less these days to épater le bourgeois, at least the theatergoing kind. But if the loss of shock value means a more low-key embrace of Genet's theater of mirrors and criminal-saints, Cutting Ball Theater's crisp, elegantly staged production affirms its still-compelling style and darkly poetic force. And Adriana Baer's taut, intelligent direction makes the most of playwright Martin Crimp's bracing new translation.
The boudoir of a wealthy woman (Sigrid Sutter) is the site for The Maids' intriguing deconstruction of appearances. Madame's two young maids, sisters Claire (Linnea Wilson) and Solange (Jennifer Stuckert), have just framed Madame's lover (an offstage male character) with forged letters and accusations of theft. As they rehearse the demise (in what is clearly a regular ritual) of their mistress, their revenge for and liberation from a degrading servitude, the play-acting oscillates between worshipful love and incandescent hatred for Madame, as well as love and hatred of each other ("We cannot even love each other. Shit does not love shit!"). When the sisters learn Monsieur has gone free on bail, they fear their plot will be uncovered, and decide to murder their mistress immediately.
If Genet originally thought to have young boys in the roles of the maids so as to give fundamental attention to the theme of role-playing, or artifice, in the theater itself, then scenic designer Erik Flatmo's sumptuous, genteel bedroom manages a similar end by introducing its own mirroring effect: Opening on to two sides of the Exit's studio stage, it neatly splits the audience in half and sets each half across from the other. Watching the play thus means, peripherally at least, watching the audience watch the play. Claire Calderwood's exquisite costumes and Heather Basarab's splendid lighting, meanwhile, help lend fatally attractive elegance to the sisters' ultimate domain.
This is a play with a lot of mirrors, whether the gilt-framed oval on the wall, the surface of Madame's shoes, or the eyes of the other (what Claire calls, looking into her sister-servant's eyes, the "mirror that beams back my image like a revolting stench;" or what Claire, playing Madame, calls all servants: "our distorting mirrors — our shame"). Reveling in a ceremony of worshipful hatred, mixing adoration and insults, Claire portrays an imperious and cruel mistress to Solange's servant. When we meet the real Madame, however, she treats them more often with gratingly sweet condescension and fickle interest, as if they were children one moment, pets the next — never more than beloved possessions (the sisters readily acknowledge between themselves that Madame loves them roughly on a par with her bidet). There's a sense that mistress and servant produce one another: The sisters act like children, first of all in that they play-act when she is away. But Madame clearly play-acts too, and is full of self-dramatizing devotion to her Monsieur. And in her presence we see Claire and Solange play-acting once again, this time the part of the loyal servants.
When it comes to casting such subtly convoluted roles, you've got to figure good help is hard to find, but Baer has found it, drawing three focused, vivid, and supple performances from her cast. Wilson infuses Claire with a depth and steely intensity that belie her character's youth and delicate frame, while giving vent to the younger sibling's paranoiac sensitivity and ultimately more fanatical, ungovernable drive. Stuckert's Solange complements Claire with an equally layered portrait, shifting from moments of barely contained, almost ecstatic rage, to the eroticized calm of some inverted religious passion. Sigrid Sutter, meanwhile, aptly conveys Madame's condescension with the self-regarding graciousness, pettishness, and unquestioned centrality of a diva in repose. *
Through Feb. 25
See Stage listings for dates and times
Exit Stage Left
156 Eddy, SF
Children's dress-up turns to S/M, incest, murder, and an indictment of class and servitude
By Nathaniel Eaton
Article Published Feb 8, 2006
Who / What: The Maids
Details: Through Feb. 25
Tickets are $15-25
Exit Stage Left, 156 Eddy (between Taylor and Mason), S.F.
What starts seemingly as children's dress-up soon turns to S/M, erotically charged incest, murder, and an indictment of class and servitude. In Martin Crimp's new translation, the inherently debauched text from celebrated criminal Jean Genet becomes performance poetry, as two young maids (Linnea Wilson and Jennifer Stuckert) perform ritual status games while plotting to kill their mistress (Sigrid Sutter). Wilson and Stuckert are young actors, and at times have difficulty handling the sophisticated language believably, but as the plot deepens, their innocence makes their angst, hatred, and rage all the more understandable. The tight confines of the Exit's Stage Left studio theater are well used in Eric Flatmo's set design, giving us the uncomfortable yet thrilling voyeuristic feeling of witnessing something private and dangerous. Genet, a habitual liar and the illegitimate son of a Parisian prostitute, is said to have lived his life as an "intentional pilgrimage to reach the lowest state of evil," but with The Maids , likely based on a high-profile murder case in 1930s France, he thoughtfully and lyrically illuminates class resentment and subjugation. Director Adriana Baer packages the tale adeptly in this sexy and provoking production.