Playing Madame in our local southern Vermont production of Jean Genet’s The Maids is definitely, for me, a high wire act. Start with wearing thin high heels and replacing my normal fingernails with a French manicure, something I never even knew existed until a couple of days ago. Then put me on a platform about four feet wide that juts out into the cave that is the Hooker-Dunham theater. I can see nothing but bright light shining at me and all blackness anywhere else while I’m uttering convoluted, absurdly histrionic lines with intense emotion and flamboyant gestures.
Not just for me, of course. What Genet’s play asks of the young actors playing the two maids is most definitely a high wire act also. Xoë and Tyler, who play the maids, both have to reach a frightening intensity to make their roles work and, IMHO, they do so magnificently. All three of us are way out there on a long limb. That’s part of the thrill. For both the actors and the audience.
Genet’s play is challenging on so many levels: The flowery language, the intense themes of desperation, murder, incest, and suicide. The perverting of human nature by the master – servant relationship. The absurdist exaggeration that makes every thing both unreal and hyper-real simultaneously. By having Tyler and myself playing women’s roles hopefully adds to this dimension of contradiction, of the uncanny. In Tyler’s portrayal of Solange, the older sister maid, and in my own, the audience has to deal with two very different versions of a man playing a woman’s role. With Tyler, it is possible to forget that he is not a woman; with me, this is definitely impossible. My “maleness” is as much a part of my character as my high heels and my beautiful French manicure.
“My most beautiful dress. It was designed for me by Chanel, especially.”
But I do love my nails!
Last four performances: Thursday, Halloween night (October 31), Friday Nov. 1, Saturday, Nov. 2 (7:30 PM). Sunday, Nov. 3 matinee at 2. Vermont Theater Company. Hooker-Dunham Theater. Brattleboro, Vermont.
The show runs a little over an hour.