Author: Jean Genet
At: The Artistic Home, 1376 W. Grand Ave. Tickets: 866-811-4111 or TheArtisticHome.org; $25/ Runs through: July 14
The Maids at the Artistic Home theater is little bit unexplainable, but deeply entrancing. It's a fearsome ode to power and manipulation, and is also about putting on a pristine facade to deter anyone from looking closely at your undercarriage. This 90-minute slow-burn story shape-shifts from performance art, to a drag catwalk, to poetry, to feverish daydream, to a kinky, BDSM fantasy. It's enigmatic enough that, like your co-worker who won't stop gushing about seeing Cirque du Soleil in Vegas, we can never capture the spirit of it.
Writer and French activist Jean Genet developed The Maids to address a still infamous 1933 murder spree from a pair of sisters and maids, Christine and Lea Papin. The girls murdered the wife and daughter of the family they served, and were discovered afterwards naked in bed together. They confessed, were imprisoned, and their story captured the fascination of Genet and other artists who could relate to the stigmas of class, mental illness and homosexuality. Genet himself was imprisoned for homosexuality at the time.
In a nutshell, sisters Solange ( Hinkypunk ) and Claire ( Patience Darling ) are unhappy maids in the service of Madame ( Brookelyn Hebert ). When they are left to their own devices, they rehearse their murder of Madame right at her vanity, wearing her gowns and jewels. They've managed to have Madame's lover arrested, and that might be just the upset they need to finally do the deed.
Director Michael Conroy and set designer Kevin Rolfs have set the sisters lose in a pristine doll house, and they are permitted to wreak havoc on their employers' finery, just so long as they set everything back the way they found it. Likewise, costume designer Zachary Wagner has developed a language to communicate sex and chasteness with just red and white gowns. There's also a shorthand for subjugation with the white patent aprons and harnesses the sisters are reluctant to return to each day.
Brookelyn Hebert's Madame is both sweet and cunning; You can't trust her to stick to her word if it's in any way inconvenient, and while she may invite the sisters to be cozy and less formal, they are well aware it's just a spider's trap. Meanwhile, Patience Darling and HinkyPunk murder us all repeatedly with Claire and Solange's perfect coifs and cheekbone contourssickening, yes, but it doesn't stop there. They are mad, impetuous, broken dolls desperate to shed their porcelain.