With a title seeming like an innocent piece about female struggles, "The Maids" quickly escalated without mercy.
In this captivating piece, Jean Genet traces the intersecting lives of two sisters struggling in a web of submission and dominance as maids for a grandiose Madame. Directed by Tyler J. Haugen, the play broaches the issue of forms of violence in the daily realm from the very first minute and leaves the audience wondering about the hidden depths of their own characters.
Throughout the play, the three main (and only) characters paint a picture of the psychological toll Madame’s condescending lordliness has on her two maids, Solange and Claire. The two sisters are introduced in a candid moment of reversing their roles and fates while trying on their master’s garments. Soon it becomes clear that the audience does not witness a lighthearted play: Reenacting the daily verbal abuse, Solange and Claire make plans to murder the woman they are dependent on – a plan that ultimately fails. Culminating in Solange’s nervous breakdown, the play takes a surprising turn of events that leaves many questions unanswered.
Solange, played by Makenzie Cammack, is initially portrayed as the timid part of the duo.
Facing Claire, played by Judithanne Young, who is acting out the repercussions of daily dismissiveness, both are stuck in a mutually contemptuous relationship with a homoerotic twist that leaves the audience wondering what issue to focus on first in this 90-minute play.
Whilst Madame, played by Annastasia Fiala-Watkins, is omnipresent in every scene, her physical appearance serves as a catalyst for the sisters’ downfall.
Providing the emotional fuel, Fiala-Watkins brightened up the stage in an equally elegant and gloomy fashion. Sending chills down the audience’s spines and murmurs of “the exorcist” down the isles, the play culminates in a final scene. With an equally dynamic and captivating performance, Cammack and Young cast their spell over University of Hawaiʻi's Kennedy Theatre as they provoked uncomfortable laughter and heads turning away in shock.
The play’s stage designs as well as the costumes were composed of only a few constant items and props that provided the necessary simplicity for the characters to develop in all their facets.
Shimmering garments and luscious fur coats resembling the style of the early 1930s highlighted the great clash between the upper and lower classes without diverting from the actual course of action.
Emphasized with precisely timed sound and light, the stage crew delivered an impression of their well-rounded abilities and contributed to the partially backbreaking atmosphere.
The plays overarching theme of violent oppression and dominance is not only a concern of the past century.
Reflected in Solange’s character development, ranging from insecurity to emancipation and finally evolving to madness, the audience witnessed the multifaceted consequences of social and psychological mistreatment.
However, The Maids also raises the question of the origin of violence. While Madame seems to be the source of the sisters’ misery, it becomes clear that she also suffers a great deal in a society that makes her self-image dependent on a man’s benevolence – a circumstance contemporary women are still all too familiar with.
Not visibly aware of the toll that takes on her own mental stability, she passes down her unfiltered dichotomy and contributes to a vicious cycle.
The Maids’ finale reminds of the words with which director Haugen introduces the piece in his program: “Rarely is violence born in a vacuum.”