entire contents copyright 1997 by Larry Stark
by Jean Genet
Directed by Rachel Rahav Shatil
Production Director Oded Susskind
Set Design by James Kitt
Lighting Design by Mark Klureza
Music Phil Kaplan
Movement Laora Naggin
Costume Design by Ravit Kaplan
Voice Coach Nina Pleasants
Claire...................Nancy E. Gertz
Jean Genet's first play was "The Maids", and it is as is as stunningly, compellingly, enigmatically, enthrallingly new today as it was when first performed. The new Portal Theater Company's production, at the Boston Center for The Arts for much too short a run, again proves its indestructable originality. Rachel Rahav Shatil their director spent five months exploring possibilities in what started as exercises in acting classes and emerged as as a dazzling theater experience. If you really love theater that is all this review need tell you, except that the phone number for making reservations is 1(617)426-0320, the theater space is small, and word of mouth should already be making this the hottest ticket in town. The only people who need read further will be those unfortunate enough to miss out on an actual performance.
Genet always pushes things to extremes. His two maids have been playing dress-up games, each in turn pretending to be Madame whom they envy. Neither of them will ever be beautiful nor rich nor waited on hand and foot, except in their constantly elaborating fantasies first of being her, and then of murdering her. When Claire has the joy of "being" Madame, sister Solange has the pleasure of being Claire, her killer. The game is so exhilarating they have to limit themselves with an alarm-clock so both can have a chance before Madame returns home. They bicker and fight about the details of their game, first one then the other dominating till the real Madame appears, thinking herself their bountiful benefactor, bathing them in smiling condescension, accepting their adoration and never noticing their contempt.
The three actresses have been living with these characters for five months, until gesture and conflict, pause and inflection look totally instinctive. But there is shape to the play. Nancy E. Gertz as Claire and Jane Lukoff as Solange first show this bewildering charade, reveal its secrets, discuss its possibilities, relate it to bits of their actual lives. Then, with the audience into the game from their perspective, Deborah Vines as the real Madame enters, and everything known up to then is reinterpreted, measured against the fact of this soft, frivolous, unthinkingly imperious woman. The very temperature of the stage is cooled by her presence. Then, almost to defy reality, the ceremony begins again, this time renewed in its intensities by Madame's brief reality. Ceremony becomes ritual, fulfilling the spiteful yearnings of the maids for spectacular triumph.
There is a richness and a complication of detail in this production. Ravit Kaplan's dresses have a gaudy opulence, the richly red armchair centerstage on a platform is a throne, even the gauzy walls of this dream of an apartment have their purpose and their secret. James Kitt's set has bright dressing-tables at each side downstage, and gray kitchen tables far in back. Mark Klureza's lights seem to be controlled by the maids themselves from a tape-console in their kitchen. Just as the actresses play with truth, manipulating it to their own purposes, the physical elements here play with reality to increase the play's effect.
This Portal Theater Company production of "The Maids" will be a touchstone against which other productions can be measured. And anyone unlucky enough to miss it may have to wait another five months for their next show.