Monday, August 20, 2012

No "Cherry Orchard" at ISU -- It's "The Maids" Instead

The School of Theatre and Dance at Illinois State University has announced a change in the line-up for this season. Instead of Anton Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard" in the November slot in Centennial West 207, we will see Jean Genet's "The Maids" instead.

MFA directing candidate Vanessa Stalling will still direct, the rest of the production team remains in place, and performances will still run from November 1-4 and 6-10 at CW 207. No word yet on the cast for "The Maids," but there are roles for three women* in this controversial, dangerous little play.

The major action of the play surrounds Solange and Claire, sisters who work together as housemaids for wealthy Madame. When Madame is away, the maids will play, concocting sadomasochistic games around the mistress/servant relationship. First Claire dons powder and rouge and lingerie to impersonate Madame, verbally eviscerating her sister until the clock runs out on Round I. Then Solange turns the tables and pretends to murder Madame as portrayed by Claire. These two are what you might called Twisted Sisters.

And when Madame comes home, the game enters a new phase, as real poison and real betrayal are  revealed. There are issues of identity, power, sex and class all over "The Maids," making it a very dark and dramatic psychodrama in the right hands.

This image shows Susannah York and Glenda Jackson as Claire and Solange in the 1975 movie version of "The Maids." And, yes, it's as creepy as it looks. "The Maids" is definitely difficult, provocative material, making it a very intriguing choice for ISU's theater program, especially in the intimate space of CW 207.

Meanwhile, I'd love to see somebody at ISU pick up Adam Rapp's "The Edge of Our Bodies," a one-woman (or one-teen) play about an alienated schoolgirl who has a role in her boarding school production of "The Maids," and do it in some campus venue. Those two plays need to be seen together.

* Genet originally intended for the roles to be played by men, and that still happens fairly often. Do a Google image search on "The Maids" and you'll see a lot of guys in French maid drag. The movie version went with women, as you can see above, and Stalling is also casting females for the ISU production. Personally, I prefer it with women, just because the oppression of the maids and the power imbalance seems stronger that way. Yes, it loses something in camp or absurdity, but... The stuff about babies and mothers plays much better, and the women's problems seem more real. Just my take...

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