Ana Reeder and Jeanine SerrallesinThe Maids
(© Carol Rosegg)
Ana Reeder and Jeanine Serralles
inThe Maids
(© Carol Rosegg)
Actresses Jeanine Serralles and Ana Reeder play Claire and Solange, two sisters trapped in a life of servitude, in Jesse Berger's bone-chilling revival of Jean Genet's The Maids, now being presented by the Red Bull Theater Company at the Theatre at St. Clement's.

On Dane Laffrey's masterfully conceived set -- as beautifully ornate as it is confining -- the women wile away their days creating elaborate fantasies where they alternate stepping into the shoes of their demanding mistress (played by J. Smith-Cameron) in a power play that becomes all too real for comfort. TheaterMania recently sat down with Reeder and Serralles to peel back the layers of their intricately drawn performances.

THEATERMANIA: The beginning of the play is much funnier than I remember. Did you make an effort to focus on the comedic elements?
ANA REEDER: I think that the humor is just a natural extension of the whimsy of their play and how seriously they take it -- how extreme their expression is and their fantasy of how they might be.

TM: There's such a stark contrast between the games they play in the beginning and the end of the play. Did you talk with Jesse Berger about this arc?
JEANINE SERRALLES: We definitely talked about why today is different from any other day in terms of the games they play. The big difference is they sent these letters to the police, and Monsieur was arrested this morning. That's a fact. Anything in the play could be of our imagination, so we decided that was true. We desperately want to be free, and we want to free each other. We sort of found the beginning, middle, and end by playing. And I think we did discover a little bit that our characters are cyclical. There's definitely some development, but they're the same people they were in the beginning.

TM: Was it challenging to map out the reality from the fantasy?
AR: It is challenging because everything is so real to them. It's almost like their fantasy is their reality. Anything that they say (even when it changes) is fact. When she claims that the milkman is raping us in the garret, suddenly that's happened, and it's a terrible truth. The play is like a house of mirrors, but it's also based on two sisters who really lived that way.

TM: Claire and Solange have such an intimate relationship as sisters. What was it like for you as actors getting to know each other through the rehearsal process as you delve into your characters?
JS: I think because Claire and Solange only have each other in their lives, the traditional boundaries of sisters don't exist with us. We get all of our love and touch and ups and downs and tactile feelings from each other. Rules don't apply. It's not that we're intimate with each other in a way that sisters weren't normally. It's that we're beyond that. Ana's the kind of actress who's immediately there, and I trust her completely. It was from the very beginning -- we knew from the beginning it was the two of us. If you don't trust the other person completely, I don't think you can truly explore this play.

TM: What is it like working on that set?
JS: There are so many ways to describe it. It's a cage. It's a womb. It's a box. It was frustrating in rehearsal, actually, a little bit because you can't get out of it unless they pull out the balcony. Even just stepping on the set now, I get nauseous and feel anxiety. I have many feelings about it.
AR: Me too, and that's partly why the set is so great. It evokes in you the actual physical experience that these women are having. It was weird to rehearse in a big room like this because you couldn't really get the sense of crawling up the walls.