"The Maids," a dark and obsessive work by Jean Genet currently playing at the University Theatre, dissects the tumultuous relationship between two sisters and the Madame they simultaneously hate, envy and love. The twisted power struggles that drive the story bring the characters together, only to give each of them more ammunition with which to drive the others away.
Director Mechele Leon emphasizes the uniqueness of the relationships of sisters - how they can love each other while at the same time using the other's vulnerability to their own advantage. It is this illogical and often volatile relationship at the center of this play that makes it so interesting.
The lighting and scene design of Del Unruh lends itself effortlessly to the dichotomy of shadow and light created by the playwright. Delicate curtains shroud the undertones of jealousy, while flowers mirror the women's vain attempts to mask the ugliness each of them feels about herself. This setting gives the actors a strong backdrop on which to build the story.
And the show rests almost entirely on the shoulders of the three actors. The dialogue alone introduces many of the show's important plot points and delivers all the necessary exposition. However, the ambient airspace of the small theater is not kind to the more intimate moments of the show. The quiet interactions that punctuate the play's many angry climaxes disappear in the seemingly vast room.
Cali Gilman and Chelsie Shipley play Claire and Solange, the relentless maid sisters. Gilman and Shipley interact with disturbing realism, bringing out the absurdist quality intended by the playwright. They dance like boxers, baiting each other and waiting to jab at the slightest appearance of weakness. But several important moments in the dialogue are lost because of the speed at which the actors deliver their verbal blows.
The saccharin malevolence served by Madame (Alicia Gian) is delectable. She gives a performance that, like the flowers in the room, beautifully conceals the underlying darkness of her psyche. She toys with the sisters, using her wealth both to entice and enslave them. Her power lies in her femininity, which she uses to manipulate situations to her own advantage.
Heavy and intense, "The Maids" examines a sinister side of the human experience: the quest for power.
- Liza Pehrson can be reached at email@example.com.