TAMPA — The Maids, Jean Genet's superior piece of art, still wears well.
The 90-minute one-act, which opened in 1947 in Paris, keeps getting performed because the issues it raises remain touchy and up-to-the-minute. The current production at Jobsite Theater is a straightforward representation of Genet's work, with good results.
Inspired by a true story, the story centers on two servants who conspire to kill their employer, a wealthy older woman. In the meantime, they take turns wearing her clothes and role playing with each other. The women are also sisters who exude a strong sexual attraction for each other, at least when they are playing games laced with anger and submission, abuse and revenge.
Katrina Stevenson, who plays Claire, and Georgia Mallory Guy, as her sister Solange, navigate the play's hairpin turns so well, you can feel the G-forces. The actors, who are themselves playing parts, convey the cruelty and shame they absorb as a part of their jobs without ever going over the top.
With the entrance of Madame, their boss (played with all of the requisite inbred high-handedness by Roxanne Fay), it's clear she wields the power in this household.
Or does she?
That is the delicious thing about this play, the way all three women seize power and give it away. Madame's bedroom becomes a little eco-system of power, like a starfish breathing in reef. Pulling that off requires the actors to pull serious weight, especially those playing Claire and Solange. Stevenson and Guy do not disappoint. (Guy, as the more hardened sister, owns some of the best moments of the show.)
Themes of class, dignity, loneliness and sexuality swirl around one other in a way that is both entirely natural and a little perverse.
Tension builds with the news that Madame's lover, who had been arrested, is out on bail. The maids decide this is the time to kill the woman they loathe but also love.
The play gets recycled because of a temptation to invent and make statements with it. Some have taken up a suggestion by Jean-Paul Sartre, who wrote an introductory essay to the play, that the maid roles be played by men. Others have explored an S&M dimension, which is not much of stretch. Director David Jenkins has seen them all.
"I've seen productions and read about productions where they've really just focused on the eroticism or the absurdism/surrealism of it," Jenkins wrote in a recent email. "I don't think that's as impacting to a modern audience as it may have been in the '40s, or heck, even 15 years ago."
This intimacy doesn't happen without an inviting set and moody, seductive lighting by Brian M. Smallheer. The setting invites audiences into a forbidden world, and the conflicting wants of the people who live in it.
Contact Andrew Meacham at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.