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Thursday, June 02, 2005


The Maids
by Jean Genet
at the Jean Cocteau Repertory

There is a special circle of theatre hell reserved for the half-assed concept. Not to be confused with the simply bad concept--when a director's aggressively misguided take distorts a classic beyond recognition--this is when a bold sounding interpretation ends up being completely inconsequential to the actual performance. A favorite example of mine is a NY Fringe show a few years back called Witches' Macbeth, which purported to be a staging of Shakespeare's tragedy "from the witches' point of view!" What resulted was a fairly ordinary recitation of the play as we know it while the three weird sisters stood upstage making spooky hand gestures. In the words of that fine Bardologist Yakov Smirnoff-- What a concept!

Director Ernest Johns has forced a similarly irrelevant conceit upon Jean Genet's already super-complex The Maids. If you look at the program before the show you'll see the setting is "Los Angeles--January, 1947." If you don't look at your program, you will notice absolutely no difference from any production of The Maids you have seen or imagined. (The play premiered in Paris in '47 anyway.) So what might have actually worked as a kind of "Genet Confidential," importing film noir tropes to spell out the strange power dynamics of Genet's lurid conspiracy of murder... just becomes an irrelevant--and distracting--program note. The struggle to understand why Johns's mediocre cast of young American actresses still attempt "mid-Atlantic" Euro-approximated accents, and why he hasn't even altered the text's "monsieurs" and "madames" (but does add references to San Francisco and Alcatraz) is all that kept my mind active during this eventless, and intermissionless, two-hour stumble-through of a play which deserves the attention of all a director's conceptual fundament.

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