Armenian Theatre 8 brings The Maids to Revolutions Festival
Also see Rosemary's review of Mr. Williams and Miss Wood
The ritual begins with a corpse struggling slowly from beneath a dusty shroud lying unnoticed on the bare stage as the audience files into seats. The performance begins with a cloud of dust poofing up from a tangle of grey cloth. A tall genderless figure in a long black gown rises like a pillar. Artur Suqiasyan plays Genet's brutal Madame as a blank-faced ghost returning to haunt her murderers in white face and blackened eye sockets, suggesting a skull. She stares vacantly at the audience, turning from side to side, claiming each spectator as a witness complicit in the action that follows, as drums pound out a terrifying heartbeat.
When the ghost vanishes, the maids, played by Zhanna Hovakimyan and Mariana Yegiazaryan, appear in costumes of peasant bondage, with breasts bound and hair concealed under brown cloths, which also hang front and back barely covering scant bikini underwear. White strips wrap tightly around their arms and legs, suggesting winding sheets, and thick ropes bind their waists. They scan the periphery fearfully and move toward each other craving comforting arms or erotic touch, fondling their own bodies, straining toward orgasmic relief. With the rap of a boot, they change roles as oppressor and slave, sexual aggressor and object of desire, spitting and shining the other's boots.
The maids drape the stage in a white sheet, turning it into a giant bed and then an enormous dress as the skull face of the torturous ghost emerges from a hole in the center like a volcano bubbling up from the depths of the unconscious, ever patrolling and controlling the maids. When the ghost recedes, the maids emerge together from the central hole as one body with two heads or as writhing flowers or as if their lower bodies were conjoined. After they strip the sheet from the platform, they continue synchronized movements with fans as music from Armenian composers suggesting different cultures swells and recedes to silence.
Midway in the performance played without intermission, they enter holding aloft a rope bed framed with candles, suggesting a funeral pyre. They flip the bed and attach head and foot. One actor lies on her back on the ropes, arching upward enacting sexual ecstasy or birthing, as the other taunts. Kneeling across the width of the bed, the maids scoop dust out of pouches hanging from their waists to blow in each other's faces. Then they pelt each other with blood red rose petals. Dust and broken blossoms recall their violent murder of Madame (enacted in Genet's play), their s/m rituals as foreplay, dust of tombs, and Madame's ghostly return. Periodically the black-garbed ghost risen from the dusty shroud appears and stamps a heavy boot, interrupting their erotic ritual and startling them into paralysis. They turn the rope bed on its side, and ropes become prison bars.
Later the maids strip out of their rope belts, breast binding, head rags, and winding strips down to bikinisan apparent liberation from bondage. But quickly the music changes to a raucous disco thump as the stage is bathed in red. The maids swing on carnival strips suggesting pole dancing at strip clubs. Undulating seductively with mask-like smiles, the women expose their pale bodies to the ubiquitous voyeuristic male gaze.
In the playful but gruesome finale, the maids pelt each other with more dust and rose petals before opening panels in the center of the raised platform and jumping into water which they splash wildly at each other and the audience until the deadly Madame pushes them down under the water and closes the panels to drown them.
Shahverdyan has created a seamless production so intense the audience might well be holding its collective breath from opening to final blackout. The performers move like living sculptures from gradual awakening to frantic action to sensual seduction to sudden paralysis. The physical performance of The Maids by Theatre 8 fulfills the Tricklock Mission: "committed to artistic risk, physicality, absurdism, and poetic works."
You say you want a revolution? Well, it's happening in Albuquerque, January 11-30. Tricklock Theatre Company with Global Dance Fest is sponsoring the 11th Annual Revolutions International Festival at venues all over town. Visit www.tricklock.com for a full schedule.
The Maids was performed January 14 through 16 at North 4th Art Center, 4904 Fourth Street NW, Albuquerque.