Jean Genet’s play “The Maids” is a multi-layered play of rituals, fantasies, masks and mirrors whose story’s origin borrows from the notorious Papin case of 1933. Christine and Lea Papin murdered their mistress and her adult daughter with a hammer and the ensuing case riveted all of France as they became a symbol of social upheaval as well as a psychological case study. Genet turns the story into a cycle of power struggles between the maids and their mistress, society, and each other as they spiral towards a perilous catharsis.
It’s a bold choice for A Noise Within and a rare opportunity to see this thrilling play produced. Stephanie Shroyer’s direction is taut and intimate, causing the audience to lean in for the 90 minute one-act. Frederica Nascimento does it again with a sumptuous 1930’s Parisian apartment set that is all art deco glamour and luxurious textures. Special mention must be made of the ingenious lighting design by Ken Booth, who uses the artifice of flickering candlelight and foggy streetlamps to stunning effect. Angela Balogh Calin’s costumes are at their luscious best invoking the Chanel and Dior of the French bourgeoisie.
All of this sets the stage for our maids’ dance of death, played with maximum intensity by leads Donnla Hughes as Solange and Jaimi Paige as the younger sister, Claire. Hughes, last seen as a feisty and romantic Juliet, plays Solange with fierce determination. Paige, last seen at ANW in Great Expectations and Ghosts, is a devastating Claire as she deftly moves in and out of play-acting as her employer, Madame. Emily Kosloski is delightful as the haughty, entitled Madame, bringing some much needed levity to the proceedings, even managing a bit of pathos for good measure. This triangle of servitude and power, envy, self-loathing and revenge is served up with passion and calculation by this impressive cast.
The Maids plays in repertory with Arcadia and Imaginary Invalid through November 12 at A Noise Within located at 3352 Foothill Blvd, Pasadena 91107. (626) 356-3100. Prices start at $44. Check the website for tickets and information on symposiums, talk-back evenings and Pay What You Can dates. www.anoisewithin.org