Western Reserve Playhouse and Ohio Regional Music Arts Cultural Outreach (ORMACO) offered a joint production of Jean Genet's "The Maids" that was chilling last weekend. The Bath theater chose the 1947 play as the centerpiece for a fundraiser Saturday and expanded the run to three performances.
It was different fare for the holiday season, with performances by Shani Ferry and Adrienne Jones as maids Solange and Claire making the blood run cold. These actresses expertly portrayed the two maid sisters in their constant power plays and shifts as they enacted a vicious, dangerous game of role playing and fantasy in their burning desire to bring down their mistress.
Director Dawn Sniadak-Yamokoski had the actresses engaging in aggressive physical activity, pushing each other down and jumping on each other on their mistress's bed, flipping each other over as one played the abusive Madame and the other played the maid. In their nasty ritualistic games, they also took turns dressing up in Madame's clothing and wearing her makeup.
The director had the actresses getting very close to each other's faces and being very hands-on with each other. By design, she was flirting with a sexual tension that stems from Genet's play being loosely based on two real, deadly French maids who were sisters and believed to have had an incestuous relationship. These sisters, Christine and Lea Papin, brutally murdered their mistress and her daughter in Le Mans, France, in 1933.
At Western Reserve Playhouse, Rose Gabriele also gave an evil turn as the haughty, physically and verbally abusive Madame. The play messed with audiences' heads, the line between illusion and reality becoming blurred as at least one of the maids descended more deeply into madness. Has a murder taken place? In the end, what is fantasy and what is reality in this twisted story?
Tour of Akron
I took in the final performance of "Rebranding the City: A Humanizing Tour of Akron" Sunday at the F.A. Seiberling Nature Realm, which was an interesting theatrical potpourri that mixed some of the history of Akron with voices from its neighborhoods today. The play grew from @PLAY, a project by Art x Love funded by a $240,000 Knight Foundation grant in June 2017. The result was an 18-month project that included interviews, interactive art challenges and activities with residents in each of Akron's 24 neighborhoods.
The play, written by Katie Beck and Josy Jones, was one of the many final arts projects. It's a partially playful presentation that started out with the skit "The Dating Game: Neighborhood Edition," in which actress Marina Gordon, playing a person new to Akron, was choosing a neighborhood from among three "bachelors" representing cool downtown, hipster Highland Square and culturally vibrant North Hill. The audience got in on the action by voting for the neighborhood she should decide to live in.
The program included a blank map of Akron's neighborhoods with 24 numbered spaces for theatergoers to work on filling in. Beck, the cast and the audience collectively called out the names of all of the city's neighborhoods. Actor Tyler Hodges and the cast also led the audience in learning a song repeated throughout the show, "Passing Through."
The goal of the play, which began performances last summer, was to provide a self-reflective look at Akron's past, present and future and create a platform for the voices of its residents. The diverse cast of six actors included Beck, Jones, Nicene McNeil, Hodges, Neema Tamang, who grew up in a Nepali refugee camp, and Gordon, who was born in the Ukraine and grew up in Israel.
The play, 75 percent based on interviews with people from Akron's neighborhoods, covered the good, bad and the ugly. The transitions between vignettes were sometimes rough.
One scene featured a debate in a Firestone Park coffee shop between Gordon's character extolling the city's growth from its proud rubber industry, countered by McNeil's server character pointing out that Native Americans were the first to live in the Old Portage area that became Akron.
Other vignettes included a refugee talking about facing ethnic prejudice, and a poor young man railing about why he felt forced to turn to a life of dealing drugs. Beck's Tour Guide character for the show responded to the latter story with an oddly energetic comment, "Well, wasn't that raw?" The show included several instances of profane language that were not appropriate for my 11-year-old son, who attended with my husband and me.
The play had residents in a Summa waiting room debating Akron's drug crisis and also did a "Twilight Zone" skit about ethnic hatred, paranoia and scapegoating. On the lighter side, one character sang the praises of Lawson's chip dip and another skit came up with monikers for the city ranging from "the Oatmeal City" to "Jojo Capital."
Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or email@example.com. Follow her at @KerryClawsonABJ or www.facebook.com/kclawsonabj.