Genet, always challenging, is nicely done at Corner Drama: Fell's Point Corner Theatre effectively puts forth the challenges of identity and class, artifice and morality in 'The Maids.' XTC

January 23, 1998|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

When it comes to the plays of Jean Genet, the one thing that's certain is that nothing's certain.

In "The Maids" -- currently receiving a skillful production at Fell's Point Corner Theatre -- the maid and mistress in the first scene turn out to be two maids acting out a favorite ritual. In the "game," as they call it, one plays Madame and the other, a maid, as they unleash all their anger, resentment and murderous schemes.

Initially, however, we don't realize they're playing a game. We take them at face value as mistress and servant. That's how Genet plays with us -- deliberately confusing fantasy and reality.

The play's two maids are sisters, Solange and Claire, and they are distinct individuals. Yet when they're playing the game, they become interchangeable. And when the game gets especially intense, they seem to forget that neither is really the mistress of the house.

Director Alex Willis' cast performs with admirable control and ability -- no small feat since this is taxing material (for the audience as well as the actors). Genet deliberately confused his characters' identities to emphasize the artificiality of the theater.

Claire says she and Solange are "the eternal couple of the criminal and the saint," and Genet wanted the audience to understand just how indivisible that couple is. As Solange, the older sister, Paris Obligin tries to be a strong, take-charge type, but it is Stacey Werling's seemingly sweeter Claire who actually has the courage of her convictions.

Compared with both these unhappy schemers, Helena Pechacek's Madame -- yes, the real Madame does eventually show up -- is a relatively simple soul, albeit one with a grandiose, and false, view of her own nobility. One moment she generously makes a gift of her fur coat to Solange; the next moment, having forgotten all about it, she puts the coat on and strides out the door.

Genet, after being falsely accused of being a thief as a boy, decided to become one for real. Similarly, his characters exult in the notion of role-playing and eventually becoming the thing they pretend to be -- if not the mistress per se, then at least free agents who choose their own fates.

Besides the overriding themes of identity and artifice, "The Maids" is clearly also about class, power and morality. Mike Burdinski's elegant boudoir set creates immediate boundaries -- without having to show us the maids' stark garret for contrast. Madame's bedroom, however, is never a place of comfort, and neither is this disturbingly effective production.

'The Maids'

Where: Fell's Point Corner Theatre, 251 S. Ann St.

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; through Feb. 15

Tickets: $10 and $11

Call: 410-276-7837

Pub Date: 1/23/98

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