Maids Buddies Bad Times

The Maids is a clean sweep

Noted theatre theorist Augusto Boal describes Theatre of the Oppressed as a "rehearsal for revolution." The idea being that those in situations of oppression act out alternative scenarios to prepare for the moment they will triumph over their present circumstance. In Jean Genet's The Maids, the two characters in positions of servitude perform a perverse version of Boal's theory in which they continually act out the murder of their Madame.

Helmed by Artistic Director Brendan Healy, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre presents a compelling production that expertly navigates the theatricality essential to this classic piece. Before the backdrop of a mesmerizing design, Diane D'Aquila gives a gut-wrenching performance as Solange that will be hard to match on Toronto stages this fall.

Genet's drama takes its inspiration from the story of Christine and Lea Papin. The infamous French pair murdered their employer, Madame Lancelin, and her daughter after years of alleged abuse. In Genet's version, the two servants, Solange and Claire, act out a number of scenarios that involve the death of their Madame.

Martin Crimp brings an economy to the translation with a focus on the theatricality of the two girls that is a solid fit for Buddies. Crimp has proven adept at translations, penning modern interpretations of Moliere, Marivaux, and Chekhov, in addition to his highly-successful original work, Attempts on Her Life, Face to the Wall, and Cruel and Tender among others.

Healy sets the play among yards of pink satin. Julie Fox's production design is reminiscent of a master bedroom in an oversized doll's house. The bed, adorned in soft pink, stands at centre with matching carpet, curtains, and accessories. Fox succeeds in creating a set design that demands attention, while at the same time providing a charged space for the two maids to stage their murderous fantasies. The maid costumes, complete with matte black dish gloves, stand in stark contrast to the pastel landscape.

It's here when Ron Kennell as Claire and D'Aquila as Solange stage their improvised scenes. Kennell as Claire brings questions of gender performance, inherent in Genet's work, to the fore. It's Claire who assumes the role of the Madame, and seeing Kennell perform the mistress brings new energy to the relationship between the sisters. While the performance is less significant when he returns to being Claire, the scenes in while he dons the Madame's persona are excitingly charged.

Healy grasps the theatricality at the heart of the maids' games. He tempers these exchanges with a direction that draws out the true motivation of these scenes — the characters view their positions of service as forms of abuse. The energy works best at the beginning and conclusion of the play, while the middle section, in anticipation of the Madame, lags a bit.

Richard Feren underscores the role-playing with a sound design that builds as the action reaches closer to climax. His composition elevates the intensity of the scenes and divides the characters from their personas and their actual roles. Maria Ricossa, as the Madame, is a formidable foil to the oppressed servants.

But it's D'Aquila whose performance resonates beyond the closing of the curtain. Her Solange is a slow burning portrait of anger under years of devoted servitude. Before you realize it's happening, her contained disdain bursts forth in the final act, showcasing a range of brutal scarlet in a monologue delivered completely upstage. Her moment on the balcony is a chilling performance from an actress at the height of her craft.

While not quite as provocative as last year's Blasted, The Maids is another challenging piece directed with precision by Healy and performed with incredible skill by D'Aquila.

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The Maids, by Jean Genet, is playing at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre from September 17 - October 9. Tickets are PWYC - $33.


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