Rarely Performed “The Maids” Makes For An Off-The-Wall Theatrical Experience

Existential playwright Jean Genet created an uproar with most of his plays, most notably with “The Maids.” Now Upstream Theatre has brought this once-banned in America play back to the boards much to the delight of local audiences. It’s an evening you won’t believe and one you won’t be able to forget.

As the play opens, we find the outgoing, precocious maid, Solange, appearing to be role-playing with the mistress of the elegant mansion. As it turns out however, this is the first in an evening of surprises as the other woman is really her sister, fellow maid, Claire. When “mother” arrives, the role-playing seems to continue in a more sinister fashion. As this bizarre, twisted plot unfolds, we’re taken on a journey not many of us could imagine and the reality gets blurred with fantasy as the love-hate relationships of all three women reach unexpected conclusions.

Emily Baker is nothing short of fantastic as the voluptuous yet deranged Solange. Her “breaking point” moment toward the end of the play is astonishing. As her more sedate but no less devious sister, Brooke Edwards delivers a powerful performance as well. As she descends into madness, we are shocked with the final moments of the play. Elizabeth Ann Townsend goes through the emotional wringer as well as she plummets to the depths with the sad news she receives from the maids then rises back to proper haughtiness as her mood swings surprisingly.

The visually stunning aspects of the production are provided by the elegant, yet somehow faded bedroom set of Jason Coale and the intriguing lighting design of Glenn Dunn. While the costumes of Michele Siler add that “faded glory” touch that permeates the story.

Guest director, Wieslaw Gorski captures the plays’ nature beautifully. A veteran of Polish theatre, he has brought Jean Genet’s script to astonishing life. As he explains in his program notes, he has lived through the political and social upheaval that is the basis for Genet’s play and he has captured a rare understanding for the work that can only come from his experience.

In a quick 90 minute one-act, we’re swept into another world. The lives of these three women are nothing short of amazing as this existential masterpiece gives us a glimpse of what art can do to motivate and inspire. See “The Maids” at Upstream Theatre at the Kranzberg Arts Center. Call Upstream at 314-863-4999 for tickets or more information.

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