Berating and beating each other the two are engaged in a fight. One dressed to the nines in a billowing white dress, the other wielding a riding crop ready to strike. They’ve held control over their emotions thus far, but tonight something has snapped. The two have lost control and are spiraling into unknown territory. No, this isn’t a battle royale. This isn’t even two vicious enemies. These are sisters, maids in a rich Madame’s household. In THE MAIDS, Solange and Claire’s world has slowly blurred together what is real and what is not.
American Players Theatre Traps Two Sisters
In this adaptation of Jean Genet’s work, THE MAIDS, we are taken to an unknown time in the modern world. It feels like we’re down in a dungeon where the maids of the household, Solange and Claire, are being held captive. The only rooms we see are Madame’s dressing room and attached closet (designed by Yu Shibagaki), both set in tones of neutral blacks and whites, with tall gray walls reaching endlessly high into the rafters.
This feeling of being trapped follows Claire and Solange as they express their immense dissatisfaction with their current position in life. As the play begins, they are in the middle of their regular “ceremony” where they act out their revenge fantasy against their employer, Madame. Time is soon up for this pretending and they must make sure nothing is out of place before Madame comes home.
However, when Madame arrives on the scene she doesn’t seem to be a hateful or vengeful mistress as we had been led to believe. It falls to us then to dig deeper into these maids’ psyches and relationship to uncover if this is a strong hatred towards their employer or perhaps something much deeper.
Is there enjoyment to this constant berating of each other?
Are they perhaps mentally ill?
Is there something we are not seeing?
Tension, Tension, and More Tension
The audience is barely given a moment to breathe almost the entirety of the play. As the show opens, the maids are already acting out their violent and dominating scene as Madame and Maid, which continues with a timer ticking in the background.
The two leads, Melisa Pereyra and Andrea San Miguel, are ferocious and complex as they keep up their heightened emotional state - from angry, to worried, to upset, and back to vengeful once again. Every “Madame” feels biting and sarcastic. When they play out their traditional “ceremony’ we feel an almost sexual tension in the air.
Blurring Sister Lines
The original play by Jean Genet is inspired by true events where two sisters, Christine and Léa Papin, murdered their employer's wife and daughter. Authorities found the two sisters to be nearly inseparable and Pereyra and Miguel reflect this closeness onstage.
They switch the maid's personalities so seamlessly that they could be the same person and it’s never clear who is truly in control of the situation. As the play continues, we get lost into who is who and when they are acting. We wonder if their wild fantasy they try so hard to maintain control over will get the best of them.
For this writer, the only sticking point of THE MAIDS was the ending. It felt disjointed as we hit what might be the end, but then it picks back up again with another moment. It can feel like they are bringing their audience to too many emotional peaks in a short amount of time.
They’re stunning, they’re a puzzle, they’re unpredictable. THE MAIDS keeps us on our toes the entire length of the show as we try to understand what internal struggle these maids are going through. Like many other American Players shows, THE MAIDS is dialogue heavy, so paying attention to their words is key to trying to discuss their motives after the show ends. It’s not for those who like to take things slow or have a clear-cut ending, but it’s a good fit for those who like to dissect the social structure in class differences.
Now through September 30th
Various dates, please check website
American Players Theatre
5950 Golf Course Rd.
Spring Green, WI 53588