Archive | theater RSS feed for this section

Can Anyone Be Original?: Searching for the Answer in Jean Genet’s Absurdest Play The Maids

23 May

themaids
Image from Hoopladigital.com

Class, power, and a plot to kill, these seem to be the embodiment of what the play, The Maids by Jean Genet, as theater of the absurd gets across. But it’s not these things that captured me about Genet’s The Maids. It was what lies beneath the surface that drew me in to consider another possible way to read this play.

The Maids (French: Les Bonnes) is a play by the French dramatist Jean Genet. It was first performed at the Théâtre de l’Athénée in Paris on April 17, 1947.  While Genet’s The Maids was loosely based on the real life infamous sisters Christine and Léa Papin, who brutally murdered their employer and her daughter in Le Mans, France, in 1933, Genet’s play takes an absurd and more intriguing turn. The Maids is available in print from BCCLS Libraries and as an ebook from Hoopla.  You can also check out the 1975 movie adaptation from Christopher Miles on DVD or stream it from Kanopy.

Jean Genet’s The Maids explores the plight of working class women in early 20th century France. This is seen as these women, Claire and Solange, are forced into assuming the role of subservient, passive, and obedient maids. Even though Genet’s The Maids is the epitome of Theater of the Absurd, it both highlights and challenges gender oppression. The Maids is recognized as absurd because it calls to attention the struggle between the layering of logical and illogical depictions of women of the working class; thus showing how through their performativity the maids manipulate as their own the identity, that of their oppressors.

Now, once the play opens, it is unclear who is whom because we are not granted the privilege of a script. But if you are reading the play before viewing it, you are made aware immediately the identity of the characters. It is this very juxtaposition between performativity that we see how to receive Genet’s personification of identity. Genet’s play through performativity gives way to this idea of false identity, and through irony, keywords, and personification destabilizes the binary original vs. copy.

Genet’s The Maids opens up as a play within a play, thus alluding to the contrast between reality and performativity, and how Claire and Solange break the barrier separating the two. Also, in contrast, Genet’s The Maids undermines the notion of a true identity thus alluding to an origin of a false identity, which then gives way to what can be interpreted as “original.”

If the maids are imitating an imitation of what may or may not even be original, then this calls attention to the question of what is real identity; thus, neutralizing the very difference between classes.  If the maids are performing as Madame, who is putting on a show herself, then what really is Genet saying about identity? How does the binary deconstruct this very question?   These are the questions that caused me to look at the play in a very different light, thus provoking me to analyze my own common interpretation of the surface of this play, to one that may give way to a more elaborate and colorful yet contradicting sentiment that maybe no one is an original but rather refractions.

What are your thoughts about the important conversations this play opens up?  The Maids, a performativity reliant play, sheds light on how as humans we all are performing in our reality, identity, and gender roles.

Written by
Sherissa Hernandez
Adult Programming Assistant

Broadway at the Hoboken Public Library, Part 2: Waitress, The Great Comet, and Hello, Dolly!

11 Feb

It’s been awhile since I wrote about my adventures on the Great White Way! (Click here, here, and here for my past posts about Broadway.) I haven’t been to the theater as much as I would like lately (life has been busy, and the Hamilton tickets I bought last year cost beaucoup bucks and wiped out my theater budget) but these are the shows I have seen recently.

Waitress

waitress

“Sugar, butter, flour” are the simple opening lines of this show as well as the basis of many pie recipes. This musical is based on the movie of the same name, written by Adrienne Shelly, about a waitress named Jenna with a talent for baking pies who finds herself pregnant by her deadbeat husband and longs to escape. The musical stays pretty true to the movie, but definitely stands on its own.

The show was created by a team of women, including Sara Bareilles, who wrote the music and lyrics for this show. She released an album (CD and Freegal) performing some of the show’s tunes herself. My favorite tracks from the Original Broadway Cast Recording (on CD and Hoopla) include “Bad Idea,” “I Didn’t Plan It,” and “You Matter to Me.” Ogie has to be the most memorable romantic hero on all of Broadway, who declares his love via a song called “I Love You Like a Table.”

The scent of fresh baked pie wafts through the theater, which will make you hungry. (Don’t worry, the concessions stands sell warm slices of pie for an intermission snack!) What will stick with you long after the show is over is the strong bond between the three female leads, Jenna, Becky, and Dawn. You may also remember a romantic scene that includes some epic Revolutionary War era cosplay.

The Great Comet

great-comet

The complete title of this show is Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812. Certainly a mouthful to say, and a lot to type. I had no idea what this show was about going in, except that Josh Groban stars as Pierre, and I was pleasantly surprised by The Great Comet.

This is the sort of show that winks at the audience–the fourth wall is gone. The action takes place all around the theater, with the actors making use of the all the space and engaging with the audience. It was fun to anticipate where the actors will appear next, perhaps near you. If you’re lucky, the actors, along their travels, will give you a little box that contains a pierogi for a mid-show nosh. I didn’t get one, but that lady sitting next to me did.

You can hear the soundtrack on Hoopla, and borrow the CD. “Letters”, a song about email’s predecessor, includes the knowing lyric “In nineteenth century Russia, we write letters / we put down on paper what is happening in our minds.” Another standout track is “Charming.” I also recommend any track featuring Brittain Ashford, who plays Sonya. Her voice is delicate but full of emotion, particularly on “Sonya Alone.”

Hello, Dolly!

hello-dolly-cc

Ok, I haven’t seen this show yet. It isn’t due to officially open on Broadway until Thursday April 20, 2017. But I am planning to see this revival, which will feature Bette Midler as Dolly Gallagher Levi and David Hyde Pierce as Horace Vandergelder. I can’t wait to see this show and these talented actors in the iconic roles.

To me, Hello, Dolly! Is one of the most classic Broadway musicals. Barbra Streisand starred in the 1969 film adaptation, but Carol Channing who originated the role on Broadway in 1964 is the best known Dolly. I love so many songs from this show. “Dancing” makes you feel as though you’re spinning with the actors. “Before the Parade Passes By” is wistful. “Elegance” is fun and upbeat. Of course, “Hello, Dolly!” is a showstopper. But my favorite has always been “It Only Takes a Moment,” which is sung in a courthouse of all places. What can I say, I’m a romantic.

Hoopla has several versions of the Hello, Dolly! soundtrack to stream. Borrow the Original Broadway Cast Recording on CD to hear “So Long Dearie”, which features one of the sickest burns to come from Broadway, when Channing as Dolly sneers to Horace Vandergelder, “snuggle up to your cash register”. Shall we adapt that one to the twenty first century, changing “cash register” to “iPhone”? Thoughts?

-Written by Kerry Weinstein, Reference Librarian

%d bloggers like this: