November 8, 2016 § Leave a comment
A response in four parts.
Part one — Jean Genet
Born in 1910 Paris, Jean Genet was said to be a pious and docile child; until, at the age of ten, he was accused of stealing. And being so described, a thief, he was resolved to become a thief. This anecdote, as described by Martin Esslin in his study of theatre of the absurd, comes from Jean-Paul Sartre, an existential philosopher of the time, who wrote on Genet, as well as the nature of freedom and choice.
Esslin tells us that after this incident Genet became “an itinerant delinquent.” He travelled. He spent time in prison. He wrote poetry and plays. He wrote about and engaged in homosexual acts. One of his plays, The Maids, tells the story of two maids (who would have thought?), sisters, who serve the same mistress. They have an intense love and hatred for her, a desire to become and destroy her; they take it in turns dressing up in her clothes and becoming her, one maid becomes the other to complete the game. While mistress is out they perform a ritual that moves from adulation to revolt. Of course, the games always end before the point of no return. On this occasion, however, the two maids come to realise they are to be found out for their part in putting the mistress’ husband in gaol. Their only solution is to commit to the role-play and commit suicide as the mistress; one of them assumes the identity of the mistress, the other becomes her sister, and serves her the poisoned tea they were unable to give to their real mistress earlier. Illusory choice, unfixed identity and queer politics play out in a fabulous, absurd spectacle.
Over a hundred year’s since Genet’s birth, Cate Blanchett, Isabelle Huppert and Elizabeth Debiki took to off-Boradway stages at the Lincoln Centre Festival performing The Maids. The Sydney Theatre Company production was met with mixed reviews, certainly, but no one questioned the talent, force and grandeur of the play. The play’s use of theatre and meta-theatre reflects to the audience a society of contradiction and ever-changing facade. It questions choice itself and asks can we ever be truly free?
Meanwhile, in 2016 Melbourne Australia, Anti-Hamlet has taken to the stage.