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Nervous Theatre Stages Genet's 'The Maids'

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Nervous Theatre describes itself as a nomadic company. That means no venue to call home. But the company is in town this weekend to perform Jean Genet's "The Maids" at Tenth Ave Arts Center.

Speaker 1: 00:01 There's a new theater company in town, at least for this weekend. Nervous theater is presenting. John Jennay's, the maids at 10th Avenue arts center. The newly formed company describes itself as nomadic, which means it has no home base and travels from city to city. KPBS arts reporter Beth hock Amando speaks with artistic director, Connor ber, compass and actor Dylan Waylon.

Speaker 2: 00:27 Connor nervous theater company is described as a nomad company, kind of a place, a rootless company. What does that mean? We kind of set out to be intentionally rootless in the sense that we're not really interested in having a theater that we call our own. Instead we're, we're interested in creating works and making productions and then taking those productions kind of wherever the wind takes us. So the play you have chosen to be your first touring production is John Shanae's, the maids, which is, I must say, I congratulate you on not taking something that's very mainstream and crowd pleasing on an audio on an obvious level. So remind people a little bit about what this play was about. It was written in 1947 it was written in 1947 after a fairly scandalous real life murder took place. The two puppies, sisters, they very brutally slaughtered their employer and her daughter.

Speaker 2: 01:19 So this was kind of the big tabloid sensation of the time and a bunch of writers kind of seized on that including Janae and created this fictional account of what he thought might've been going on psychologically and Dylan, you go by sympathy the clown and the program and you are going to be playing one of the female characters. So this raises a lot of issues, especially today where people are very concerned about who plays what roles. And I understand that Janae had expressed an interest in having men play the female roles. So what is kind of the reasoning behind this productions using men to play female roles? Well, I think when the play originally came out, uh, society was a little more rigid and a little more structured and it really focused on the class divide between the maids and ma'am, but now society's a little more fluid.

Speaker 2: 02:13 Uh, so I like to think that our production is tackling not only the class struggle between these characters, but also what it means to be oppressed and what you're allowed to express yourself as. And the ways we present ourselves and the places we're told to be in society. These classic plays that we love and Revere have to change and grow to continue to be played to different audiences. So I think we're trying to do that with this production and the play itself. I mean this is theater of the absurd and part of what he's doing is calling attention to the whole idea of role playing and gender and 11 other things. So Connor, how were you? What were you thinking about in terms of directing this and using this kind of casting? It's so theatrical and we kind of wanted to capitalize on that. So our, our production kind of jumps through these different genres as, as the sisters put on these different roles and as they're forced to kind of present themselves in difference to whoever else is in the room.

Speaker 2: 03:11 So we kind of jump from genre to genre and style to style throughout the evening. And this was a play that was written in French. And so the translation of the play is important. Sometimes it's given a very kind of modern translation. Uh, what kind of a translation did you decide to work from and does it kind of play up the poetry or play up more of the kind of bluntness? Yeah, the, the translation that we're using Bernard Frackman, it absolutely kind of leans into the poetry of Jennay's original texts. And I think that that's kind of what makes it so ingenious because it doesn't shy away from Shanae's extremely sometimes flowery language, which I think it would be a disservice to the play to pretend it's something it's not. And instead we're choosing to lean into that while still making it highly contemporary and highly, um, rooted in the here and now. So let's hear a little snippet from the play. You are playing the two sisters, correct? Yes, that's right. I, I play Solange and I play Claire. This scene takes place in the ceremony. So the sisters perform the ceremony every night when their employer is away. One of the sisters puts on the madames outfit and the other assumes the role of maid,

Speaker 3: 04:26 those gloves, those eternal gloves. I've told you time and again to leave them in the kitchen. You probably hope to seduce the delivery boy with them. Oh no, no, no, no. Don't deny it. No point in lying. Hang them over the sink. When will you understand that this room is not to be contaminated? Everything. Yes. Everything that comes from the kitchen is spit. Get out and prepare my dress.

Speaker 2: 04:53 The red Madame will wear red.

Speaker 3: 04:57 I said the white, but the sequence.

Speaker 2: 04:59 I'm terribly sorry. Madame will wear the Scarlet velvet dress this evening. Y madames curves under the velvet folds are unforgettable. Particularly when she size.

Speaker 3: 05:12 You dare deny me. The white gown wide is the morning of Queens. Claire, you are too ignorant to know that

Speaker 2: 05:20 Madame will wear red.

Speaker 3: 05:22 Quite

Speaker 2: 05:24 all right. Well thank you. And what do you hope audiences are going to take away from this? This is a play from 1947 about an incident that happened in 1933 and we're now in the 21st century. So what kinds of things do you think people are going to connect to? It's, it's hard for us to answer this question just because, um, we've talked so much about universality and how that's not something we're always interested in in making theater just because we think that can kind of take away from understanding someone else's circumstances. Sometimes we absolutely hope that people find things to relate to and we hope that everyone will get something out of this. What's more important than relating to it on an individual level is watching these two people struggling and kind of having an evening where we just exercise our empathy.

Speaker 3: 06:11 So much of this play is the dichotomy between what, where we are in our lives and where we see ourselves in our lives. And I don't think anybody who walks into this plate can't relate to that. And I think the big question of the whole night is how the, what makes us, who we are is how we go about getting those things. And I think that's the giant question Mark on this play. And obviously I want everybody to take their own individual experience with it, but I think that's the overarching question the entire night. All right, well, I want to thank you both very much for coming in and talking about the maids. Thank you for having us. That was Beth Alka, Mondo speaking with nervous theaters, Conibear compass and Dylan Wayland about their production of the maids running today through Sunday at 10th Avenue arts center.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.