Literature

The Maids

The Maids
The Maids
The Maids is a play by the French dramatist Jean Genet. It was first performed at the Théâtre de l'Athénée in Paris in a production that opened on 17 April 1947, which Louis Jouvet directed. A film adaptation of the play was released in 1974. | Photo: | The Maids, Play, Jean Genet, Drama,

Fascinating, Disturbing, Brilliant

The other day my acting teacher at Strasberg suggested I work on a play called The Maids, by Jean Genet. He told me that there was a phenomenal monologue in there for me, and he thought I would really love it. Intrigued as I always am by recommendations of that kind, I decided to check it out. It happened to be one of the darkest and most fascinating plays I have ever read.

The play chronicles one evening in the lives of two maids named Claire and Solonge. Over the course of the play we learn that they hate their job and that, among other things, they play a game where they take turns dressing up as Madame (their mistress). Eventually, we also learn that they want to kill Madame--one of the sisters has already tried to do so, and failed--and that the game is actually a sex ritual.

The Maids is loosely based on the story of the Papin sisters, women who actually were maids back in 1933. One night they killed their mistress and her daughter, and when the police got to the house they found then in bed with each other. The play does not follow exactly the story on which it is based, but all the essential elements are there. The ending, however, takes a theatrical twist that I never expected; and which makes the entire story that much more fascinating. Of course, I will not spoil it here'if I did, what would be the point of reading it? However, I will say this: As actors, our job is to make these kinds of unbelievable and wild stories as real and accessible as we possibly can, and in order to do that we must first understand the characters we play as thoroughly as possible. To that end, I have spent the majority of my time these past few days with the darker side of human nature as I ready myself to play this murderous and exceedingly human character.

The Maids is a fascinating and wonderful play, but don't read it unless you don't mind being thoroughly unsettled for a little while. The entire premise is very strange until you get it, and then it is still very strange; but at the same time I found I couldn't stop reading it. The bits I have shared with friends have fascinated and deeply disturbed them as well. It is not a "happy" play, but it is brilliant in the way it affects its readers and audience; and ultimately, that's what good theater is all about.

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Updated Aug 12, 2017 12:14 PM EDT | More details

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