Published on July 11th, 2014 | by Katy Evans2
The poverty of grief and the splendor of crime: Toy Boat Theatre will break your heart with their incendiary “Maids”
It’s 10 pm; I join a small crowd at the back of King’s Books, waiting expectantly around a space set as a luxurious boudoir, complete with chaise, vanity, wardrobe, and armchair. My fellow audience members and I sit in three quarter round, filling in for the walls, windows, and mirrors of this very private space.
Jean Genet’s intimate and acute tragic play, The Maids, is about to start.
I didn’t know what to expect. Regularly disappointed by live theater in Tacoma, I came skeptical but curious – very curious because The Maids is a profound work of art by Genet, one of my very favorite writers.
It’s been nearly a decade since the heady days of my academic exploration at The Evergreen State College. Since that time, I’d forgotten to revisit my once-rampant Jean Genet obsession. (Back in the early aughts, I’d even convinced my bandmates that we should name our EP in homage to Genet.)
Thank god for Toy Boat Theatre – last night they helped rekindle my love for one of the most important, enigmatic artists of the last century.
Helmed by the indefatigable Dr. Marilyn Bennett, Toy Boat consistently produces exceptional, challenging, and soulful work. And last night was a revelation. Not only did Marilyn’s heart-rending interpretation of The Maids come off without a snag last night, the performances were nothing short of transcendent.
Maybe these superlatives seem overblown for a three-person performance in a makeshift theater. But here’s the deal: if actors don’t go all the way in, they can’t pull off Genet. If they do not surrender to his work, they will look like fools, the audience will not get it and everyone will leave hating the play. It’s tough stuff.
Last night, actors Deya Ozburn, Emily Rychlick, and Ricky German were all in, working as true artists to embody and convey to us the suffering, grief, vengeance, and the very particular quest for freedom that Genet demands of actors in The Maids.
The basic story: two maids, sisters Solange and Claire, loathe their roles as servants and, through play-acting as their Madame, they try to articulate a plan to escape their lots in life. They struggle to delineate between love and hate – expressing their hatred for Madame while simultaneously emulating her, expressing their love for each other as hatred. It’s a painful and complex relationship to observe. The two sisters want so desperately for their lives to be different yet they know it is impossible for them to escape. Their desperation, pain, and confusion is played throughout as ritual, inevitably boiling into a frenzy with tragic results.
The Maids is affiliated with Tacoma’s Pride activities and although ostensibly it is clear why (Jean Genet was gay and devoted his life to reveling and examining the marginalization of society’s outcasts ; the three characters in this play are all women typically played by men; Ricky, a man, plays Madame, a woman in this production), at the play’s heart, there lies not simply a struggle for love and equality, but a yearning for rebellion and transformation.
Ozburn as older sister Solange seethes as she tries to concurrently save and destroy her sister Claire, declaring that “filth doesn’t love filth,” that “nobody loves us; she [Madame] loves us the way she loves an armchair.” and that they can and will destroy Madame, because, Solange claims “danger is my halo.”
Rychlick as younger sister Claire is limpid, ascending to her imposing impersonation of Madame and back to herself with disturbing aptitude. She stuns with her declaration, “I am capable of anything,” yet conclusively the sisters cannot overcome the restrictions of their situation and they know it. It is only through their playacting where they can find even just a little relief.
The stakes rise exponentially for the sisters when we, the audience, finally meet Madame. Ricky German as Madame takes the stage, the manifestation of all that the sisters’ most fear and detest. Madame is both careless dictator and ambivalent mother to Solange and Claire, and German displays this dominance with a captivating and threatening grace.
As the play progresses, Claire’s and Solange’s distress intensifies to an unexpected yet somehow unavoidable outcome. There is doom and fatalism in The Maids, yet in that resignation the sisters find agency and, finally, love.
Do not miss The Maids. You will leave changed, and delighted at the promise of good theatre in Tacoma.
King’s Books 218 St Helens Ave, Tacoma WA 98402
10 pm at July 11, 12, 18, 19