Jean Genet’s The Maids still hasn’t been domesticated. Some 65 years after its Paris premiere, the play retains a core of molten danger that bubbles through the cracked theatricality of its surface. Solange (Reeder) and Claire (Serralles) work for a woman of leisure, whom they refer to only as Madame (Smith-Cameron); when their mistress is away, they enact elaborate sadomasochistic role-playing games in her boudoir, with Claire playing Madame and Solange playing Claire. There is a strong dose of incestuous sexuality in these grand delusions, which stop just short of their anticipated climax in the fantasized murder of Madame.
In Jesse Berger’s intensely intimate revival for Red Bull Theater, a company devoted to pulse-popping classics, the audience peers through all four sides of Dane Laffrey’s set, a narrow room with plush red walls. The metatheatrical layering of Genet’s script withstands this voyeuristic scrutiny surprisingly well, and as The Maids progresses—investigating such paradoxical themes as the power of submission, the nobility of rebellion and the beauty of crime—it gains force and crime-novel suspense. (Berger inserts one particularly game-upping twist.) Smith-Cameron’s bottle-blond Madame has hints of weary age and Jean Harlow–ish coarseness; despite her beautiful dresses, designed by Sara Jean Tosetti, she seems cut from cloth not so different from that of the servants she casually disdains. (“I loathe servants,” says Claire while imitating her. “You’re our distorting mirrors, our loathsome vent, our shame, our dregs!”) And the stoical Reeder provides effective ballast for the mercurial Serralles, who gives a performance of startling risk and control. To watch her Claire is to marvel at power in a state of exhilarating flux.—Adam Feldman