The Maids Sweeps Audience Off Their Feet

Paul carbonella

From March 2 to 6, UNH students stepped into an illusion. The set, laid bare in low light as Erik Satie’s Gymnopédies danced along quietly, held the air of impossible perfection—a place too clean, too perfect to truly exist. Such was the overarching mode of the UNH Theater Program’s production of Jean Genet’s The Maids, directed by Jonathan Yukich and starring Kaitlin Mahar as Claire, Damianis Eusebio as Solange, and Helen Schneider as Madame.

Damianis Eusebio and Kaitlin Mahar (Photo by Jonathan Yukich)
Damianis Eusebio and Kaitlin Mahar (Photo by Jonathan Yukich)

The Maids is about two sister-maids, Claire and Solange, who secretly play out sadomasochistic fantasies of murdering their employer, Madame. The two take turns roleplaying as Madame, with the other as the vengeful servant bent on murdering her boss in a continual power-struggle. Much of the play deals with these illusionary worlds, mental pathways, and the social stratification Claire and Solange face daily, manifesting itself into these dangerous reveries.

“Though written in the mid-20th century, there are predominant issues of class oppression and social stratification that continue to be major issues today,” director Jonathan Yukich said about the production. “It’s a fascinating play with a lot of layers. Genet’s work presents many opportunities and challenges in production.  His work allows us to explore a style of theatre that is particular to the great post WWII playwrights who, after the horrors of what they’d seen in that war, were questioning and altering, the form and function of art.”

The Maids features a cast of just three women. “It, at first, seems to be a daunting task when only working with two other actors and spending most of your time on stage, but I actually really enjoyed the experience,” Mahar said of the small ensemble performance. “There was less craziness, and we all knew what was expected of us, so there was no slacking off.”

Portraying characters demonstrating severe mental conditions and sadomasochistic behavior may seem challenging for many actors, but Mahar, Eusebio, and Schneider managed to find some personal connection with their roles.
“She [Madame] is a very over-the-top kind of woman who sometimes gets lost in her own world,” Schneider said about Madame. “There are moments when Madame gets almost childlike whenever she is happy or impatient. That’s where I connected with her on a personal level.”

“Three great roles for women,” Yukich said of the production. “I needed actresses who weren’t afraid or intimidated by the demands of the text or the style.  You have to attack the material.  Fortunately, I found that.”

However challenging The Maids is to produce, the cast and crew still found time to enjoy each other’s company and create memories on-set. Damianis Eusebio recalled a few of her favorite moments during rehearsal, “between trying to teach Jonathan new words to add to his vocabulary and not busting out in laughter mid scenes, the memories and moments are endless. I’d probably have to say that my favorite moment is when Jonathan told me to be excited about saying a line. I say the line and he immediately questioned why I said it in that manner and mocked me. We all thought it was so funny that every time after that I couldn’t stay serious with the line. I’d break character and we’d all start laughing automatically. It was great!”

Largely a work of student collaboration, The Maids also featured work from a student lighting designer (Melissa Bannon), a student assistant director (Andy Esborn), a student set designer (Rhiannon Ferronetti), a student sound designer (Terrence Dowdye), and student dramaturgs (Catherine Cinque, Ben Hodge, Jared Reynolds), all working together to bring Genet’s “game of mirrors” to life on the Dodd’s Theater stage.

The incredibly challenging work done by all members of the UNH Theater Department should be commended, especially when working with such difficult content as Genet. Overall, The Maids is a testament to the range demonstrated by the Theater Department, and their powerful ability to transform Dodd’s Theater into an immersive world every semester. “The play is exhilarating and thought-provoking, but it doesn’t allow for pat answers or explanations,” Yukich said of The Maids. “Life is not neat and tidy – why should art be?”