Tuesday, April 27, 2010

"The Maids" Lives Up to Curious Frog's Usual Level of Excellence

By Georgina Young-Ellis
Photo by Sam Hough

As with many of Curious Frog Theater Company's productions, "The Maids," by Jean Genet, begins before it begins, with a character making herself at home in the space while the audience members wander in and take their seats. That space, designed by Laura Taber Bacon, a pink loft, rose bed in the center, fuschia Betsey Johnson garment bags plastering the walls, is as much a character as the actors. We, as spectators, are an afterthought, taking up only a quarter of the area while the actors roam the length and width of the room. There is no stage. Nothing divides us from the action. The lighting, designed by Michael Megliola, is incorporated into the set by use of lamps which only the actors control. To me, that level of realism in theater is exhilarating. It indicates that people are living in the space, rather than merely reacting to it.

The realism pretty much stops there. The play opens with a kind of dance, representing the characters' relationships to their "Madame" and to their surroundings. They then play out their own melodrama of servant and mistress. The beautiful language in Genet's piece (translated from the French) is poetry, and we must interpret as we follow the plot. We are not always sure what is real and what is in the characters' minds. This creates levels of surprise throughout the show: some of the playwright's making, some of the director's. They are surprises that make you gasp.

For the most part, the acting was strong. The ability of all the actors in regard to movement and how it was used to define character was fascinating, and executed to perfection. The director, Tracy Cameron Francis, obviously had a strong hand in choreographing where and how the actors would move, which left them free to explore the depths of emotion that their parts called for. Iracel Rivero, as Claire, was by turns regal, haughty, subservient, groveling, and pathetic. Bushra Laskar portrayed her sister Solange as a frighteningly deceptive minion - able to transform from submissive to dominatrix in a flash. Alex Runnels, as Madame, was a wonder. The character seemed the personification of aloof upper class, so caught up in her world that she could not conceive of her servants as human. All three actors more than accomplished, in my opinion, what the playwright intended, and that is no easy task given the language. I was a little distracted by one sister having a British accent and the other American, though their difference in race was of no consequence.

Curious Frog's productions always surprise, delight and challenge convention. "The Maids" fulfills the theater-goer in all those ways. It runs April 30th, May 1st, 2nd, 7th and 8th, shows starting at 7:30. Go to Curiousfrog.org to purchase tickets. Be advised that they tend to sell out fast because the seating is quite limited, so reserve your tickets now if you're up for a gorgeous, unusual and unsettling theatrical experience.

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