The Maids x 2
The new Ego Po/Cocteau company offers two different interpretations of Jean Genet's play in one fascinating program.
In the first version, sisters and maidservants Claire (Alejandra Cejudo) and Solange (Leah Loftin) enter their boss's bedroom, which is decorated with bouquets of flowers, crushed velvet furniture, a canopy bed, and a grand armoire. After tidying up for a few minutes, they begin to fantasize that they are in charge and take turns ordering each other around with dominatrix-like enthusiasm. When they finish amusing themselves in this manner, they reveal a plan to escape to Devil's Island with an elaborate plot: They will kill their employer, "Madame" (Taylor Wilcox), while "Monsieur" -- whom they framed -- is in prison. But events do not transpire exactly as planned.
Though there are fine performances by the actresses, this interpretation fails to stress the subject of class envy that is at the play's core. The servants don't sound any less educated or more vulgar than their employer; they even have good posture! It's hard to imagine these two women as miserable, poor, and resentful when we only see them in neat uniforms surrounded by luxury. While all three of the cast members get down and dirty in the more shocking sections of the text, the overall production itself is almost tasteful -- and tasteful Genet is not Genet at all.
There is a 50-minute intermission between shows, during which the proscenium set-up is turned into a bare-bones theater in the round. At this point, a Cajun dinner is served downstairs, presumably because EgoPro was formerly based in New Orleans. The second verson of The Maids takes place in a prison cell, similar to the one in which Genet wrote the play. (He was jailed several times for theft.) This time, Clare (J.J. Brennan) and Solange (Kevin V. Smith) are men -- sometimes in makeup but not in full drag -- who imagine themselves to be wealthy mademoiselles. They see their soiled underwear as perfumed flowers, a rusty toilet as a religious altar, and a scummy sink as a balcony. "Madame" (Nick Lopez) is a butch, bearded prison guard who sneaks into the cell, steals their makeup, forces them to pamper him, and generally bullies them around. Though all of this, Smith, Brennan, and Lopez give hilarious, moving, and brave performances.