It’s all well and good to have something trenchant and poignant to say, but if your idea of how to get a point across is to have someone scream it loudly for 2 solid hours, perhaps you aren’t as articulate as you think you are.
The very modern and hip presentation of The Maids was just painful to my ears. For 120 minutes without an “interval”, three actresses screamed at the top of their lungs. While that was an impressive display of vocal talent, it was lousy theater.
Jean Genet wrote this play in 1947 about a pair of housemaids who have bizarre sexual fantasies and want to kill their employer, “madame”. The play is loosely based on a famous 1933 murder in France.
The cast is very strong. Madame is played by Laura Carmichael, fresh from Downton Abbey. The two maids are Zawe Ashton, a British sitcom star, and Uzo Aduba, who won an Emmy as Crazy Eyes on Orange is the New Black.
Directing this hot mess is James Lloyd, who apparently has an affinity for difficult plays with unlikeable characters. And these characters are indeed unlikeable, because they never stop shouting. If they would just talk occasionally, perhaps I would understand them and listen to what they have to say. Perhaps I would care. Perhaps I would have a good time.
The set is just a rectangle with no furniture, open front and back because this theater has seating on both sides.
Jean Genet was a playwright from the French avant garde, open about his homosexuality in a time when that was dangerous. He suggested that the two maids might be played by men in drag, to further add to the meaning of the work.
I suppose I should be proud to have been able to see a play by a famous author with a celebrated cast, but that isn’t happening. Maybe the words mean more than I realize, but since I spent half the time with my fingers in my ears to quiet the painful din, I missed a lot of them.
The audience gave a good round of applause, but the now-standard leaping to their feet for a standing ovation was conspicuous by its absence.
Since we’re in England, I guess it’s appropriate to say, regarding The Maids, “We are not amused.”