THE MAIDS by Jean Genet; directed by E. Theresa Choate; scenery by Cathy Cashdollar; lighting by Tom Chapman-Loftis and Cathy Cashdollar; produced by Bart Whiteman; with Constance Fowlkes, Maureen Clarke and Rachel Theus.
At the Source Theatre through Dec. 14.
"It is the element of fake, of sham, of artificiality that attracts Genet in the theater," Jean-Paul Sartre wrote in "Saint Genet," and "nowhere has he lied more brazenly than in 'The Maids.'"
Indeed. This 1947 play -- the latest production of the Source Theatre Company -- takes us into a wealthy Parisian woman's bedroom, where her two housemaids act out the frustrations of belonging to the underclass and the specific fantasy of murdering their mistress. It is a play that oozes with fakery and with Jean Genet's characteristic class bitterness.
But "The Maids" was also, clearly, an effort to portray some truths about the French class system and the injury Genet felt it had worked on the minds of the unprivileged many. He based his play on two real-life maids accused of conspiring to kill their mistress in 1933, and he was able to draw on his own experiences and passions as an orphan, male prostitute, reform school inmate and thief.
The sense of currency and immediacy is gone. To an audience removed by 30 years, an ocean and a language gap from the society that inspired the play, "The Madis" seems like a flighty contrivance and a theatrical curiosity, nothing more. And neither the translation (with phrases like "whinny for joy") nor the acting do anything to bring the story down to earth.
It would take a great deal of subtlety and craft to render "The Maids" exciting (if anything could render "The Maids" exciting). Instead, Constance Fowlkes and Maureen Clarke play the two title characters in an extravagant, swooning, almost 19th-century manner, and the most generous word that could be applied to the pace of the production is "deliberate."