Deciding to launch a theatrical production company with a play by Jean Genet must presage some kind of artistic death wish, second only to casting oneself as Hamlet. Luckily the brave souls who present this mounting of a remarkably difficult classic are well up to the task. Led by director Stuart K. Robinson's kinetic and continuously visionary staging, actors Sofie Calderon, Dawn Greenidge, and Inger Tudor fearlessly interpret Genet's once shocking but now often campy 1947 tale of lust, murder, and revolution, boldly creating the larger-than-life characters the great master intended.
Based on a crime that scandalized Europe when he was 23, Genet's grittily lyrical dialogue proved the perfect match for the twisted story of incestuous siblings who savagely murdered their employer. As his tortured romanticism fictionalized the motives of the Papin sisters, Genet's lifelong fascination with sadomasochism and his desire to fuel the flames of class-structure rebellion reached a freedom not explored with such abandon in his novels.
Greenidge is magnificent as Solange, the elder of two sisters serving a diva-like socialite they despise. Alternating with Tudor in the role, Greenidge is subtly over-the-top while staying miraculously still and focused. Tudor is riveting as Madame, taking the stage with a grand flourish and complete command of her clownishly self-absorbed character. It would be fascinating to return a second time to see these two masterful actors switch parts. As the younger sister, Calderon lacks the trust in her portrayal that energizes her co-stars. She obviously understands the role intellectually and has the talent and instinct to embrace the style of the piece, but she works too hard indicating what her character feels. Against the simplicity of Greenidge, Calderon's lack of conviction in her own performance is only accentuated.
The efforts of Robinson and his actors are sharply augmented by generous production values—rather than the familiar on-the-cheap black box versions of this play that occasionally surface—including a lavish and well-appointed set by Dan Mailley, atmospheric lighting and sound by Robert Oriol, and a procession of shimmering period-style gowns provided by costumer Heather Carleton.
"The Maids," presented by CGT Productions at Stage 52, 5299 Washington Blvd., L.A. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m. (Dark Nov. 25-27.) Nov. 5-Dec. 18. $15-20. (323) 769-6243.