Janus Theatre is committed to presenting new and classic works that are fun, challenging and raise questions. The company’s production of “The Maids” by Jean Genet, translated by Bernard Frechtman, fits the bill well.
The script is filled with dark and twisted moments and situations that will raise individualized and unique questions in the mind of each audience member. Yet, there are also select situations and dialogue that are fun and even funny. Further, the script weaves a plot that provides awesome challenges for the fine cast to conquer.
The Janus Theatre Company’s Elgin production of “The Maids” is a bleak and disturbing exploration of the power dynamics between two sisters and their well-to-do and abusive employer.
The play, loosely based on the true story of the Papin sisters, tells the story of Claire and Solange, two maids who are deeply resentful of their inferior social position. They take out their anger on their employer, known simply as Madame, by playing out elaborate fantasies of violence and domination.
The production is directed by Jesse Hicks, who creates a claustrophobic and oppressive atmosphere on the Elgin Art Showcase stage, conjuring a sense of tension and suspense.
The set is simple, but effective, with just a few pieces of furniture and a few key props. The set is by producer Sean Hargadon, artistic director of Janus Theatre. Props are by Jennifer and Jesse Hicks.
The lighting also is used effectively to create suspense. Sound effects and music are utilized in a limited fashion, allowing them to offer maximum impact. Hicks’ use of background music for mood in the final moments of the play is brilliantly done.
The cast displays a delicious level of talent, with Julie Bayer, Crystal Skipworth and Jennifer Reeves Wilson giving powerful performances as Claire, Solange and Madame.
Bayer is particularly impressive as Claire, capturing the character’s complex mix of vulnerability and cruelty. The physicality she infuses, sometimes suggestive of violence, is extraordinary.
Skipworth is extremely entertaining in the role of Madame. She gets to play both sides of the drama/comedy coin, and does it well, without turning the drama into a comedy. This is the sign of a gifted actress.
Wilson’s Solange is a tour de force performance that will leave you breathless. You can see the passion, angst and disturbed confusion burning inside Wilson. In the play’s conclusion, Wilson puts on a display of emotional gymnastics that will astound any theatergoer.
Combined, the three actresses do an amazing job bringing the Genet script to life as they follow the intricate and skilled direction of Hicks. The play does contain some mature themes and situations, and they are excellently handled.
“The Maids” is not an easy play to watch, but it is an important one. It is a reminder of the destructive power of oppression, and the importance of challenging the status quo. This production is a thought-provoking and disturbing experience sure to stay with you long after you leave the theater.
“The Maids” is an example of Theatre of the Absurd, a style popularized by European writers around the 1950s. The plays tend to include ideas of existentialism, with a focus on what unfolds when the human condition lacks meaning or purpose.
Theater critics and historians around the world have touted “The Maids” with great reverence. The New York Times states, “It is one of the most unremittingly moving works in the modernist repertory.”
The acting is superb in this production. Striking directorial choices by Hicks are apparent throughout the play, kept tight and focused.
Fight direction by Stetson Cross definitely stands out. It is physical and believable. Not only is Cross to be celebrated for designing these elements, but the cast also deserves ultimate praise for the way they embrace and display them.
As artistic director, Hargadon runs a tight ship. He is truly a theater professional, understanding both the business and artistic sides of entertainment.
One of my pet peeves is waiting for a performance to begin because of latecomers. Hargadon starts “The Maids” exactly at the listed curtain time, a welcome show of respect to the audience.
Indeed, Hargadon never ceases to impress. His creative vision is amazing, as are his attention to detail and his professionalism.
Overall, I thought the production well done and thought-provoking – a powerful piece brought to life by a powerful team of creatives. You will be applauding with fire, excitement and reverence when the cast members come to take their final bows.
A variation of this review is published by Northwest Herald/Shaw Media.
Peace. Love. Trust.
Rikki Lee Travolta
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