say your piece
155 30 OCTOBER 2003
Lab Takes a Stab at Supposed French Absurdist's 'Maids'
By Craig Froehlich
Misquided female energy and sultry rage take the stage at the Lab Theatre's production of "Maids."

he Lab Theatre opens Jean Genet’s “The Maids” with a mid-20th century amorality tale of class war and female whimsy. Oh, and there’s also a murder plot.

Presented upon a lovingly spartan set bathed in pink light and bargain lace, the scene never switches—nor does the shrill tension of two maids playing out their fantasies in “madame’s” wardrobe. The Lab’s theater department students tackle difficult material in a valiant effort with some strong moments, but can’t entirely overcome the tedious nature of the piece.

Presumably sisters, Solange (Laura Brackley) and Claire (Stacey Allen) primp about in a haughty mockery of their boss. The sexual tension comes early and uneasy. After all, the sisters I’ve met rarely tout the other’s golden thighs.

They model the bridesmaid treasures of madame’s clothes rack and take turns demeaning one another. Like good servants, they remain ever-prepared to be surprised by their employer and remain wary of intrusion. In this world, wary equals wild-eyed conviction.

These girls stare when emoting.

The themes of envy and unrequited passion come quickly. It plays out between convoluted musings of blackmail and imprisoned lovers. As they see it, those with the wealthy trappings become instantly worthy of respect and desire. Almost as quickly the playwright’s weak points begin nagging at you.

Jean Genet, a sincere tag-a-long of last century’s French Existentialists, seems to view the rich with a treasonous respect. Sure, the Stalin love shack had crumbled by the late ’40s, but one could almost swear this should be a play sympathetic of the worker’s plight. Unfortunately, what torments the workers is the fact that they are absolutely bonkers.

The two subservient leads pluck at each other in a beleaguering dialogue of “kiss me, don’t touch me.” One senses a zealous attempt to titillate.

So, they’re sisters…right?

The lines sometimes play deftly with the language. Nicely poetic musings along the lines on “frittering away my frenzy” often catch the ear. The play’s director Larry Ness seems to think the dialogue is best appreciated with a non-descript “I’m a denizen of the Continent” accent. Fake French would be inexcusable, but the unsure attempts at British enunciation try the nerves and make the monologues a tad laborious.

Somewhat unsettling is the unveiling of the mythical “madame,” played by Mindy Dillard. The object of envy and stewing neuroses traipses onto the stage in a homage to a mid-’80s Cyndi Lauper. Bedecked in bows and fishnets, she gnaws on a candy necklace while out-bitching her imitators.

It’s clear that the murderous sisters both damn and desire their boss. Somehow, they all end intellectually and morally equal. We are not put on this earth to cheer for characters.

Brackley as Solange receives casting’s better hand due to a selfassured poise and the plain fact that she looks the part. Allen tears into the role of Claire with enthusiasm, but loses herself in the accent and the temptation to play a beauty descending into madness. Certainly a juicy role, but one made sensitive by the writer’s pretensions.

Sex acts as the spinal column to this drama. We get glimpses of lesbianism and everyone speaks of the “bad boy” boyfriend with gushing admiration. Brackley convincingly quivers her way to orgasm, as a prologue to a finale of monologues and psychotic stabs at femininity. In the end, one can expect an honest effort with some speculative material.

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