Jean Genet’s “The Maids,” a play based loosely on the story of two infamous sisters who murdered their employer and her daughter in France in 1933, will be performed at Wyck Historic House & Gardens.
Jean Genet’s “The Maids,” a play based loosely on the story of two infamous sisters who murdered their employer and her daughter in Le Mans, France, in 1933, will be performed at Wyck Historic House & Gardens this week. The play is translated by Bernard Freshman.
In one of the more unusual settings for a play, The Kammerspiel – a new Mt. Airy-based theater company that bills itself as creating “commercially non-viable productions that are subversive and sublime” – will present four performances of Genet’s lurid melodrama (first performed in 1947) in the garden house at Wyck. Attendees in the intimate space, which seats roughly twenty, will be eavesdropping as two housemaids plot the murder of their domineering mistress.
Kammerspiel founder and artistic director Effie Kammer said that the garden house is evocative of elements in the play. “It’s a shed with a gabled roof, the sensuousness of flowers, the beauty of nature. It’s timeless. The maids, Solange and Claire, talk about their garret. There are tactile materials in the play, flowers and walls, and these always motivated Genet. He wrote much in prison. This felt right for a setting.”
The similarity between the theater company’s name and its founder is purely intentional. “Kammerspiel,” in German, means chamber play, an intimate drama performed with a small cast and practically no sets or costumes in a small space.
Kammer, an attorney by day who has had an abiding passion for acting since childhood, studied theater at Villanova University years ago. She said it gave her a “rich perspective on theater arts” and admits that her taste is for theater “in somewhat offbeat rather than traditional settings.”
She wrote Kammerspiel’s first production, “Corpus,” produced recently in Kensington’s Fidget Space, located in an abandoned warehouse, as part of the Philly Fringe Festival. She appears as Solange in the current production. With director Josh McIlvain (co-founder and artistic director of Automatic Arts, a performing arts company), she is also its co-producer. Kammer even induced McIlvain’s wife, Deborah Crocker, who co-founded Automatic Arts with her husband, to co-star as Claire.
The role of Madame will be played by male actor David Burgess. Genet’s contemporary, French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, once cited a line from a character in Genet’s novel “Our Lady of the Flowers,” who said that if he had a play written for women, he would cast adolescent boys in those parts. In 1981, Academy Award-winning actor Mark Rylance appeared as Madame in a 1981 British production.
Genet (1910-1986) led a terrible life. Born to a prostitute who gave him up for adoption after seven months, he spent much of his life as a petty criminal and did considerable time in prison. The luridness of the play, according to Kammer, is “an inversion of Christian ideals for this born outsider. Genet puts himself at the center of the universe. You can imagine how shameful it must have been to be a housemaid being treated so badly by their mistress. They free themselves at night, and in a series of rituals, they put on her dresses and her airs and they ‘become’ her. They’re also obsessed with true crime.”
“The Maids” is presented by arrangement with Concord Theatricals on behalf of Samuel French, Inc.www.concordtheatricals.com. It will be performed at Wyck Historic House & Garden, 6026 Germantown Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19144, Thursday, April 20, 7:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, April 21 and 22, 8 p.m.; and Sunday, April 23, 7 p.m. For tickets, visit the-kammerspiel.ticketleap.com. Mature themes: likely not appropriate for kids under 15.