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ISSUE 120 VOL 15 PUBLISHED 3/16/2007

Brilliant 'Maids' cast explores taboo themes

By Andrea Horbinski
Staff Writer

Friday, March 16, 2007

From March 7 to March 11, St. Olaf was treated to a production of Jean Genet's "The Maids" in Haugen Theatre. Based on actual events in France between the World Wars, "The Maids" offers a snapshot of the lives of two sisters, Solange and Claire, working as maids. While their employer, known only as Madame, is out, Solange and Claire indulge in playacting, switching between the roles of the mistress and the maid.

"Playacting" conjures up images of innocent, childlike fun, but the sisters' role-playing is the furthest thing from that type of play. In their disturbingly psychosexual scenarios they are free to act out their rage at and hatred of Madame, but the game offers them no release from who they are, or from each other. Despite their blood ties, at times there is little love lost between Claire and Solange. They are equally ill-intentioned toward Madame and her unseen but much-discussed lover, whom the sisters' real-life machinations have succeeded in placing behind bars. Monsieur's absence gives the maids their opportunity to murder the mistress they despise.

"The Maids" is certainly an interesting choice to stage at St. Olaf; besides murder, the play flirts with issues of homosexuality, incest, rape and the great divide between socioeconomic classes, as well as the inherently hierarchical (and, Genet's play suggests, inhumanely oppressive and dehumanizing) relations between employers and servants. But director Dionne Laviolette '07 manages to successfully juggle all these diverse themes with help from the talented cast.

Amanda Carson '07, wearing a perpetual scowl as the (quite possibly) deranged Solange, excellently embodies the twisted, furious heart of the play. Solange's passions are masked by her black uniform, but Carson gives them full range nonetheless, from Solange's morbid religiosity to her sadomasochistic sexuality. Kelsey Cramer '09 is likewise brilliant as the younger, more damaged yet paradoxically more reckless Claire, whose own religiosity finds expression in a fatal gesture towards purity before the end of the play. Hannah Sorenson '10, despite her youth, gives a brilliant performance as the sophisticated Madame, who may or may not be as terrible as the maids imagine her.

The appearance of Sorenson, sporting a perfect upper-class accent and a terrifically moneyed demeanor, gives the play a breath of fresh air in its middle. In "The Maids," even this respite is charged with danger and potential violence. I left the theater rather disturbed yet devoutly thankful that I will most likely never have to wrestle with the moral issues involved in employing servants in my own life. The play's considerable impact was undoubtedly heightened by the decision to stage it in the round. It is much harder to dismiss Solange and Claire's trauma when one is practically sitting on the furniture of the room in which their drama takes place.

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