This review contains spoilers.
In an attempt to escape the Gambier cold, this Friday I attended Kenyon College Dance, Drama, and Cinema Club’s production of Jean Genet’s The Maids. The play’s subject matter challenged the audience, but it was expertly executed by the cast and crew.
The Maids follows a pair of sisters, Solange (Grace Jolliffe ’23) and Claire (Alexandra Bianco ’23), who work as housekeepers for the demanding Madame (Roisin O’Byrne ’25). When Madame is away, the sisters act out dramatic and perverted plots where they pretend to kill their employer. Solange and Claire take turns playing murderer and victim, and, as their identities are blurred, their threats become increasingly personal and real. During this escalation, it is revealed to the audience that Claire was responsible for the imprisonment of Madame’s lover, Monsieur, and Solange details her failed attempts to kill Madame. Ultimately, the audience understands that the real danger is that the sisters may attack each other as they get caught in their own web of lies, threats and murderous intentions.
By acting out their elaborate scenes, Solange and Claire are able to escape their poverty, if only momentarily. Imitating wealth and prestige compensates for their feelings of inferiority. Through insults and violence directed toward Madame, the maids are able to revolt against the class structures that keep them contained. Their opinions on Madame and her luxurious life alternate between intense hatred and intoxicating, often sexual, desire. In their roleplays they seem to enjoy both submitting to her authority and defying it. At the conclusion of the play, the sisters recognize that despite their complicated relationship with class and authority, they cannot escape their reality. This leads to Claire’s suicide, as she embodies Madame one last time and drinks the poison intended for their employer. Solange cradles Claire in this moment, pronouncing the two of them “beautiful, joyous, drunk and free.”
When Bianco entered the stage as Claire with a clownish amount of blush and lipstick, the audience knew it was in for quite the performance. Bianco managed to capture the unstable, immature maid without hesitation. Her commitment to the character expressed itself through her movements, exaggerated when pretending to be Madame and childish as Claire. Bianco’s most impressive scene occurred during a particularly violent roleplaying episode between the sisters. As she screamed and writhed under Jolliffe’s hands, I felt concern not for the character Claire, but Bianco herself.
As the other sister, Solange, Jolliffe also delivered a fantastic performance. Her cold demeanor, accentuated by the click of her practical, black heels, created a chilling and unpredictable disposition. Jolliffe showed no apprehension in her portrayal of Solange, committing to the character’s wicked insults and actions. Her depiction of Solange explored the layers of the character, seamlessly switching between an aggressive, scorned woman and a cold, reserved housekeeper. Jolliffe demonstrated this in the scenes where the sisters abandoned their extravagant roleplays and returned to their maidly duties. Jolliffe’s calmness in the aftermath of these scenes made me wonder if I had really witnessed the two of them try to kill each other moments before.
The Maids immediately throws the audience into a confusing and chaotic situation, but director Zola Gray ’23 was able to take charge of the stage. I commend her for her attention and intention throughout the production. Subtle details, such as Claire’s white slip peeking through her various outfits (especially the ill-fitting dresses she borrows when playing Madame) or the choice to have Solange step almost off stage to deliver a portion of her monologue on the moonlit balcony, were elements I appreciated.
The play was packed full of meaningful features, compelling viewers to pay attention to everything from the color of a dress to a shift in lighting, which showed dedication from the entire cast and crew. This fervent play, which included depictions of assault, incest and suicide, required special care. I saw this demonstrated by all involved, as I never felt the characters nor the actors were being exploited. Rather, I was watching an intense story unfold.I applaud actresses Bianco and Jolliffe for their phenomenal acting as a part of their senior theses. They were an incredible combination who easily played off each other’s energy and captivated their audience. After watching The Maids this past weekend, I know I and the rest of Kenyon will miss their stage presences in the future.
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