Savage Rose Classical Theatre Company continues for the third year its association with the Slant Culture Theatre Festival as a producing company with Jean Genet’s “The Maids”—a play that is quietly powerful in its unhinged cadence, leaving audience members anticipating throughout the whole performance, and then eventually breathless at its conclusion.
“The Maids,” a 1947 French one-act, exemplifies everything for which Genet’s work is known. It’s a highly stylized manipulation of social identities—the best and worst traits of the “haves and have-nots” are thrust into the spotlight—showcasing the inherent theatricality of Genet’s characters.
The play, which is directed by Tad Chitwood, opens on sisters Claire (Victoria Reibel) and Solange (Karina Strange), the maids, who are practicing a role-playing ritual they have adopted to deal with their deep hatred for their employer (Beth Tantanella). One plays the dominating, verbally abusive Madame, the other a lowly maid. Though they are surrounded by ornaments of gentility—vases of flowers, flowing chiffon dresses, patent shoes—their behavior and reasoning throughout the charade grows increasingly manic, eventually leading to a murder plot.
This fascinating, and at times unnerving, production is anchored by a strong sense of theatric timing. Chitwood’s adaption of “The Maids” jolts you, humors you, lulls you into feeling that things are on the mend, and then jolts you again; all in a rotation that is expertly executed by Reibel, Strange and Tantanella. Each actor plays their part with deep commitment to the character’s narrative, resulting in a genuine and cerebral exploration of both class and madness.
Reibel pushes the boundaries as Claire, putting forth a performance that is volatile, enraged and sometimes childlike. Strange captures the more nuanced and bitter character of Solange. However, it’s when the sisters are together that audience members fully realize the toxicity of their relationship; they move from incestuously close to cutting in mere moments, fading seamlessly between their assumed identities.
Tantanella’s Madame is a bigger-than-life caricature of the privileged class, and a much-needed breath of levity. In her peacocking and melodramatic fits we see the material that the maids latch on to, viciously assuming it at a later time for their ritual.
In essence, Savage Rose’s production of “The Maids” is a dark, well-rounded and raw must-see of the Slant Culture Theatre Festival, as its potency is found in a presentation of social disparity that still keenly resonates today.
‘The Maids’ opens Saturday and runs on Sunday, Nov. 19 and Nov. 22. For tickets and a list of times visit the Slant Culture Theatre Festival here.