“The Maids” Delivers Stunning, Subversive Performance


Chandler Browne

College senior Eliana Meyerowitz directs a sinister production of The Maids, a play by Jean Genet that explores themes of oppression and violence.

The Maids, a richly sinister play by Jean Genet, opened Thursday night in Warner Main Space, under the direction of College senior Eliana Meyerowitz. The show follows the stories of Solange and Claire, two sisters living in 1940s France who work as maids for a socialite called Madame. At first, the sisters find cathartic release by staging illicit fantasies of liberation and revenge while Madame is away. Soon, though, their innocent games take an alarming turn. The play demands some suspension of disbelief from the audience, but delivers on its thematic promise from start to finish.

“Come with an open mind and a willingness to be taken by the absurd,” said College first-year Olivia Guerriero, who plays Solange.

“You’re not going to understand all of it, but you’re not meant to,” added College sophomore Aly Fogel, who portrays Claire. “I think this show is really about the essence you get from it and the feeling you get leaving, versus completely understand[ing] what’s happening all the time. I think everyone is going to take away something different.”

The play is inspired by the criminal case of the Papin sisters, who were convicted for the murder of their employer’s wife and daughter in 1933. The court case garnered mass- media coverage, containing extensive descriptions of the sisters’ troubled background and the gruesome murders to which they confessed. Meyerowitz’s rendition paints a similarly chilling picture of violence, sadomasochism, and other dark themes in a subtle — yet terrifying — manner.

“It’s a bit like a horror movie, except you’re on the side of the scary people,” Meyerowitz explained. “Think about what parts of your life this play brings up. In what ways are you a maid? In what ways are you a Madame? In what ways are you neither? Also, it’s sexy. It’s really sexy.”

The small cast transformed Warner Main Space into an immersive world that plunges the audience into the heart of class divides, privilege, and violent calls to freedom. The two sisters are outsiders — the discarded and unloved — and the play defiantly spotlights their desires.

“[There are] a lot of themes about liberation, about self-hate, and working together towards liberation,” Meyerowitz said. “When I finally got to direct it and started analyzing it more, I really just fell in love with the way Genet looks at embracing being an outsider of society as something that’s almost holy and gives you a power [of] its own.”

These ideas of liberation will ring true with Oberlin students, as the 70-year-old play raises familiar questions and criticisms of privilege.

“Especially at a place like Oberlin, as people pursuing further education and, for a lot of the population of the school, [coming from] a higher economic class, we have to recognise in ourselves the parts that are Madame and the way in which our class, our education — our view of the world — affect the way we treat other people,” said College junior Catherine Potts, who plays Madame.

Meyerowitz’s production illustrates the timelessness of the play, as the characters of the maids speak not only to issues of social class, but other kinds of oppression and alienation based on aspects of identity such as gender and sexuality.

“I think the play is mainly about deviance and how it makes people feel when they’re outside the norm or oppressed in some sort of way,” Fogel said “I know the author … was gay and that was very outlawed during his time, so I think the play is partially about that. It’s also about power struggles and class and freedom. I think that Genet wrote this while he was in prison so freedom has a really big message in the play. The maids want to be free of their roles, and also of the cycle of the game they keep playing. They want to break free from that.”

Tickets are available at the Central Ticket Office in Hall Auditorium for Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. in Warner Main Space; $5 general admission.