August 15, 2002


The Maids
An Experiment for the Theatre:
Strindberg’s Miss Julie

reviewed by
Lynn Trenning



















For more about Lynn Trenning, please visit her main page.

(special to the Charlotte Observer)

The Farm, a collection of past and present college students from Greensboro, dares to expose Charlotte to French playwright Jean Genet, and to a rewrite of August Strindberg, both presented in a newly dubbed stage called The Warehouse, in an uptown art gallery. The material is intellectually confounding, the acting is superb, and the challenge these young actors have accepted is daunting.

Jean Genet’s The Maids presents two siblings who swap roles as a dominating Madame, while they indulge in a reverie that wavers between hate and love. The Maids explores subordination, domination, prayer and murder. The plot is obfuscated by unexplained role-swapping, co-mingled with confusing sexual innuendo. The dialogue is stunning, as is Stephanie Holladay as Claire. As the siblings alternately conspire with and abuse one another, the audience must choose to decipher the dialogue or let it wash over them. The material demands active interpretation.

Meanwhile, a cacophony of city sounds crashed about the brick walled building. Latin drum beats from a downstairs club, slamming doors of garbage trucks and the roar of the freight train provided both atmosphere and distraction. Matt Cosper’s lucid direction includes a series of sensual dance movements by actors in the opening scene, as well as disturbing film images, shown on a screen to the side of the stage.

The second piece, loosely based on August Strindberg’s Miss Julie, was conceived, designed and directed by the talented Anthony Cerrato. “Shall we play a game?” asks the narrator, whose continuous queries are reacted to by the cunning and flirtatious Miss Julie, and a Man, who courts, mocks, amuses and abuses her. The whimsical yet utilitarian set is made of household items hanging from chains, all of which double as hand props. In a series of vignettes, Miss Julie, powerfully performed by Meridee J, explores the orchestrations of love with snippets of fairy tales, popular allusions, and poetry. As her partner, Ben Horner displays an astonishing range of facial expressions and delightful physical dexterity.

The Farm showcases great acting talent and significantly unconventional material. A lot about the space doesn’t work, including a movie screen that is too low to see, noise that could delight or irritate, and a stage with too many blind spots. And some audiences aren’t going to want to work this hard to decipher a performance. But, as the narrator intones, “There are no rules that require us to obey rules.” As such, The Farm provides a worthy, hip alternative to summer musicals and reality television. They’ll return to The Warehouse in January with the collected shorts of Samuel Beckett.

Lynn Trenning, August 15, 2002

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