Probably the most frequent question I got after playing Madame in VTC’s production of Jean Genet’s The Maid, was why I didn’t wear a wig. The early publicity photos showed me with a frumpy blond wig that we ditched at a dress rehearsal, instead opting for my bald head in all its glory.
Whether we fully succeeded or not isn’t for me to say, but what we were going for was a Madame who clearly a male playing a woman, but not pretending to be a woman. We thus presented three very different sexual images on stage: Claire as an attractive female female, Solange as a male transformed into a female, and Madame as a male woman.
Madame, as I played her, is not a transvestite in the popular understanding of that word. No one, not even for a moment, would wonder if I were really a man or a woman. You wouldn’t need to look at my Adam’s apple. Nor, again at least what we were trying for, would it be a wolf-in-grandma’s clothes or J. Edgar Hoover in a dress kind of fake. It was just a direct man playing out this bizarre woman’s role. She had to come through for herself. And the man in Madame as himself.
Playing absurd theater — my personal favorite genre — means bringing forward extreme contrasts. The audience is confronted repeatedly by jarring contradictions. But it is these very contradictions that make absurd theater emotionally real, psychologically accurate. Real life is full, for example, of words of hate spoken as though they were love. Disgust and desire, hope and despair, fear and fearlessness do not exist in separate universes, but mingle and intertwine. Our rage at ourselves turns outwards and our rage at others turns inwards. Our desire to show ourselves honestly and our desire to hide everything beneath an impenetrable facade co-exist.
So I/we chose Madame to be strong and vulnerable, determined and utterly dependent, cruel master and, at the same time, victim of the same system that enslaves her maids. Addicted to her clothes and to her domination, she has lost her humanity yet is all the more human, even if a rather despicable human.
Oh, what fun! Fun, because Madame is also a laughable exaggeration of a “woman of society.” I consider myself truly blessed to have a had a chance to stand on the “catwalk” the set designer built into the cave known as the Hooker-Dunham Theater and declare, gesturing wildly with my French manicured nails, how “Outrageously happy!” I was because my lover’s imprisonment had “only made me aware of my attachment to him.” And equally happy that I managed to clomp my way off that platform without breaking my goddamn neck!