Richard and I saw *The Maids* at City Center on 8/7. It’s a play by French playwright Jean Genet from the 40s - - I saw an incredible production in college and was all hopped up to see it again, starring Cate Blanchett and Isabelle Huppert as the two sisters, the maids of the title.
I don’t want to give anything away, but let’s just say there’s a lot of role-playing and power struggles in this show. What words would I use to describe the writing? On the one hand: florid, overripe. On the other hand: vulgar, obscene. A dazzling combination, no?
There are three characters in the play: Blanchett and Huppert played the maids, and Elizabeth Debicki played Madame, their boss. All three of them gave tour de force performances, it was thrilling to watch such full-throttle acting. I didn’t know Debicki - - she played Jordan Baker in the recent *Great Gatsby* movie, she didn’t make much of an impression on me (though you know how I disliked that movie). She was very strong. It was no surprise that Blanchett was extraordinary, this is the fourth time I’ve seen her in New York in a Sydney theatre production, and she’s amazed me every time. One of the best things about her is her voice, she has a glorious, deep, old-school theatrical voice. And she’s what opera fans call “a stage animal” - - she’s completely present and giving her all.
It would be wrong to call Huppert the weak link in the production, because she gave a spectacular performance. But there was one huge problem: you could only understand a half to two thirds of what she said, her French accent is so thick. Or should I say so THEECK! I knew this would be a problem going into the show, and I was luckier than other members of the audience, having seen and read the play. But still, it was <<une grande problemme>>. My friend Freya saw it the night before me, and she told me Christine Baranski was in the audience. Baranski would be so incredible in that role! Or Frances MacDormand, or Glenn Close, or Jan Maxwell. I could go on and on, so many incredible female actors of a certain age whose English you can actually understand.
The other problem was the production itself. The play is so over-the-top and unreal that it would be better served in a more straightforward production. This director put a movie screen at the back of the stage and cameras on the sides, projecting close-ups of what you were seeing. They were often interesting, and monumentally unflattering to these three women (which is exciting in itself). But I got a little tired of it after a while, especially of the random shots of flowers and shoes and gowns that were put on the screen when he wasn’t filming one of the actors. He could have used that more sparingly, it got annoying after a while. And while it’s invigorating to see such unbridled performances, I think the actors could have been reined in a little. Just a smidge.
The vacuum cleaners were furnished by Dyson. One of the most amusing things I’ve seen in a theatre program.