Late Nights at The Artistic Home
Sensual and grotesque, decadent poetry found new life in Jean Genet’s The Maids. Genet, a gay man who lived through fascist France, was fascinated by how people are aroused by abuse. In and out of prison for much of his early life, he was also interested in the true crime genre and how murderers thirst for notoriety. And so, he wrote a one-act psychodrama about the erotic power of violence, jealousy, self-loathing, and the symbolism of fetishes with a frankness that is still uncommon. Inspired by Genet’s desire that the titular maids be played by young men, The Artistic Home is now presenting the 1947 drama as a limited-run late night show featuring outstanding drag performances.
Misery Loves Company
It would be too simple to say that sisters Claire (Patience Darling) and Solange (Hinkypunk) hate Madame (Brookelyn Hebert). Oh, they certainly do, but Madame is so much more beautiful, graceful, self-assured, intelligent, and perceptive, that they cannot help but love her. Or lust for her. And for her boyfriend, whom they have just had arrested by sending the police an anonymous and probably bogus tip-off.
And for the milkman, which Madame subtly ridicules them for while offering comradery that they know is fake. And they not-so-subtly feel the same for each other, since they are each other’s only sexual outlet and fuel each other’s resentment and ideation on murder. “What of it? We’re just scum!” they rebuke each other, decrying their living condition, their obsession, their cowardice, and their dependency on each other. But tonight is different because getting Madame’s lover arrested has created a crisis that will finally force them to deal with her or be destroyed. They just need to practice a few times.
A Textured Relationship
While the sadomasochism is what immediately stands out to most viewers, this reviewer was struck by how well Hinkypunk and Patience Darling captured the older and younger sibling dynamic. Patience Darling’s younger sister Claire is needy, impulsive, provocative, shameless, and loud, but ultimately easily cowed. Hinkypunk’s Solange is the voice of, well, not reason, but responsibility and experience. We don’t learn anything about the sisters’ background, but it seems clear that Solange has been Claire’s anchor for a while. And Solange is scary. Her anger seethes and ultimately comes out in an unforgettable monologue in which Hinkypunk dominates the entire playing space.
Brookelyn Hebert rounds out the cast as Madame. Despite the maids’ idealization of the woman, she’s little more than an archetypical high school mean girl. But Hebert does show a trace of what they see in her when she casually throws out barbs with an almost supernatural ability to stab Solange or Claire in their weakest points. She also brings some very dark humor to the show when she taunts the women who are struggling to find the courage to kill her. You can almost see the vein bulging in Solange’s forehead as she keeps her eyes on the floor.
A Still Living Reflection
Director Michael Conroy’s concept is simple and the design not far removed from more typical drag shows. He choreographs the actors naturalistically, allowing Mark Bracken’s lighting design to supply occasional flashes of expressionism. But while the language folds in on itself, the characters are always making new discoveries about how far the other is willing to go. Audiences in 2018 are probably more removed from this situation than those in 1947 who commonly had maids. But if Claire and Solange were alive today, they would be able to find entire online communities devoted to egging on their particular kind of psychosis. Their excuses, resentments, and fantasies are chillingly similar to those of the kind of people who still seek notoriety through slaughter. The drag turned out to be a welcome bit of distancing.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Cast and Crew:
Claire: Patrice Darling
Madame: Brookelyn Hebert
Director: Michael Conroy
Producer: Kayla Adams
Stage Manager: Catherine Wilson
Assitant Director: Jill Perez
Set Design: Kevin Rolfs
Lighting Design: Mark Bracken
Sound Design: Stacie James
Costume Design: Zachery Wagner
Fight Choreography: Julian Hester
Graphics: Jen Dorman
Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago
Thru July 22
Fridays and Saturdays at 9:00 pm
Running time is ninety minutes
The Artistic Home
1376 W Grand Avenue
About the Author: Jacob Davis
Jacob Davis has lived in Chicago since 2014 when he started writing articles about theatre, opera, and dance for a number of review websites. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Department of Theatre, where he specialized in the history of modernist dramatic literature and criticism. While there, he interned as a dramaturge for Dance Heginbotham developing concepts for new dance pieces. His professional work includes developing the original jazz performance piece The Blues Ain’t a Color with Denise LaGrassa, which played at Theater Wit. He has also written promotional materials for theatre companies including Silk Road Rising.
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