Theater archives

The Maids’ The Maids Is Just What It Sounds Like


The Maids’ The Maids experiments with Jean Genet’s erotically tinged 1947 drama about two sisters in
domestic service who role-play as their imperious mistress. Genet’s original play hinges on this dualism — which eventually collapses — between the characters and their roles; Claire and Solange symbolically destroy their boss in an act of rebellion.

Sister Sylvester’s performance-art remix of Genet’s scenario, directed by Kathryn Hamilton, adds a few complicating layers with documentary elements. Two Brazilian women (Laudeceia Calixto and Rita Oliveira) who clean New York City homes for a living in real life discuss their experiences and backgrounds. At times they enlist us in rituals: waving cleaning products for a reshoot of a favorite music video and giving a makeover to one spectator they deem underdressed for a night at the theater. Famed French psychoanalyst Lacan is name-checked. A naked woman dies a noble and emblematic death. These and other sequences blur with fragments quoted from Genet; it’s a well-trodden path of
deconstruction — as intentionally messy as the stage floor after the performers have spit Fritos all over it. The result
is inchoate, but deliberately so — a politically defanged but pleasantly ironic experiment. The succession of gestures is a little like the spendy shoes the maids find in clients’ closets: Each idea gets tried on for size, then put away in favor of
the next.