J. Smith-Cameron, Jeanine Serralles
and Ana Reeder in The Maids
(© Carol Rosegg)
J. Smith-Cameron, Jeanine Serralles
and Ana Reeder in The Maids
(© Carol Rosegg)
Two sisters play a dangerous role-playing game in Jean Genet's thrilling masterpiece of power and subversion, The Maids, now being revived by Red Bull Theater at the Theatre at St. Clement's. And although it is not perfectly executed, director Jesse Berger's production still makes several bold and effective choices.

The work's titular characters, Claire (Jeanine Serralles) and Solange (Ana Reeder) have constructed an elaborate ritual, in which they take turns dressing up in the clothes of Madame (J. Smith Cameron) and acting out fantasies of humiliation and revenge. The maids simultaneously love and hate their mistress, wanting to be her, and also to kill her. But most of all, they desperately seek an escape from their own bleak existence.

Genet's language, translated from the original French by Bernard Frechtman, is lushly poetic, yet contains a bitter undercurrent that gives it a biting edge. Serralles is adept at navigating its subtleties, making small changes in rhythm and vocal intonation that can be electrifying.

Unfortunately, Reeder is not as proficient and doesn't seem to fully grasp the style of the play. A lengthy monologue that she delivers towards the end of the show is particularly hard to sit through.

Cameron has only a brief amount of stage time, yet makes a strong impression. Like her servants, Madame is prone to outsized bursts of emotion, and the actress fully commits to this aspect of her character.

The production showcases a brilliantly conceived set design from Dane Laffrey that uses only a fraction of the St. Clements space, and seats the audience on all four sides of the playing area. Spectators look into a room that is simultaneously elegant and tacky -- and more than a little claustrophobic. Additionally, the awareness of fellow audience members who can easily be seen in this in-the-round configuration heightens the sense of theatricality that is woven into the fabric of Genet's play.