Review Roundup: THE MAIDS at Lincoln Center Festival

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Review Roundup: THE MAIDS at Lincoln Center Festival

Sydney Theatre Company returns to Lincoln Center Festival with Cate Blanchett, Isabelle Huppert, and Elizabeth Debicki in Jean Genet's The Maids. The show opened last night, August 8, 2014.

Inspired by the story of the infamous Papin sisters who brutally killed their employer and her daughter, Genet's play delves into the rituals of siblings Claire and Solange-played by Blanchett and Huppert-as they take turns playing both sides of the power divide and plot the demise of the domineering Mistress (Debicki). The production is directed by one of Australia's most regarded theatrical talents, Benedict Andrews.

Andrews helms a new English translation by Benedict Andrews and Andrew Upton. The creative team also features set and costume designer Alice Babidge, lighting designer Nick Schlieper, music byOren Ambarchi, video designer Sean Bacon and sound designer Luke Smiles.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Ben Brantley, The New York Times: Whether New York audience members will clasp this unlovable show (newly translated with contemporary references and vulgarity by Mr. Andrews and Andrew Upton) to its bosom is another matter, especially if they've mortgaged their apartment to buy scalpers' tickets. It is, to put it bluntly, a mess, in ways both intentional and unintentional...And I wouldn't have missed it for the world. That's largely because of Ms. Blanchett...Once again, she proves herself to be the ruling mutation master among contemporary actresses.

Marilyn Stasio, Variety: As showpieces go, they don't get much showier than Cate Blanchett and Isabelle Huppert in the Sydney Theater Company production of Jean Genet's "The Maids," the theatrical centerpiece of this summer's Lincoln Center Festival. Genet based this 1947 play on a notorious murder case in which two homicidal sisters killed their mistress and her daughter. The kind of roles, in other words, that actresses would kill to play. Blanchett and Huppert are demonstrably well equipped to play the parts -- but not on the same stage. The mismatching of these super-thesps is quite baffling.

Elysa Gardner, USA Today: Blanchett is particularly resourceful, and harrowing, in showing us Claire's desperation, which extends to using her mistress's personal items to land the master in legal trouble. Facing her employer (Elizabeth Debicki, in a deliciously vulgar performance) after her plot has been foiled, if not exposed, Blanchett's Claire crumples, and the thinness of her fortitude is made devastatingly plain. Huppert doesn't bring quite the same range, or clarity, to her role. Flapping her still-agile limbs about, she provides a droll foil to Claire's fragile strength; but a lengthy monologue that requires Solange to summon her own ferocity toward the end doesn't pack the punch that it should. Still, it's a pleasure to see a pair of great actresses tackle challenging material with such un-self-conscious devotion.

David Cote, Time Out NY: If you couldn't afford a ticket, or didn't have the social clout to snag a comp, I beg you not to worry: All you are missing is a flashy, messily acted and superficial misfire of a modern classic, with a grotesque bit of miscasting (Isabelle Huppert) that hobbles what was already a limp update. Yes, Cate Blanchett acts her heart out and lets her makeup run; yes, Huppert has moments of inspired weirdness; yes, full-length mirrors and furs and live video and acres of flowers suggest an aura of decadent, morbid voyeurism; but it never coheres -- or worse, unnerves. Only the most degenerate starfucker would give a pass to this glib and brainless production because OMG! I'm sitting here watching Cate Blanchett -- live! Actually, in this case, live is a matter of opinion.

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News: Cate Blanchett is ready for her closeup, Mr. Genet -- and in all of the demented desperation that suggests. The thrill of watching this Oscar winner and stage animal go belly-up in all her game-for-anything glory comes thanks to the Sydney Theatre Company's wild and woolly but weirdly lopsided production of Jean Genet's 1947 play, "The Maids"...Blanchett's lack of vanity is worth its own applause. And so is her performance, which filled with ferocity, humor and vulnerability. Debicki, another Aussie who's fabulously vulgar, is as terrific...And then there's Huppert, who's antic but one-note. And with her French accent -- thicker than Pepe Le Pew's -- her speeches get lost even when you strain...In this spikey tale of two against one, the teams get strangely reshuffled. One of these things is not like the other. That may be intentional. But you still may want to call housekeeping.

Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post: And yet the show's belief that too much is never enough casts a crazy spell. Blanchett is on fire, pouring her all into Claire's hatred and humiliation -- at one point, Huppert pushes her head in a toilet. It's a performance for the ages. The sisterly balance is a bit out of kilter because Huppert, hampered by not acting in her native language, isn't as fluid. Her accent does add a twisted layer, turning her into the archetypal coquettish French maid. Still, the two stars understand that Solange and Claire are playing for keeps, and their performances match that desperation. Watching them go at it with uninhibited recklessness gives a fantastic charge.

Robert Hofler, The Wrap: At long last, women have taken back the world of camp from the drag queens. And Cate Blanchett is just the actress to lead the charge. The Sydney Theatre Company's production of "The Maids" opened Friday at New York City Center as part of the Lincoln Center Festival. Under the direction of Benedict Andrews, it's a very broad, gussied up staging of Jean Genet's 1947 play..."The Maids," like so many masterpieces from the so-called theater of the absurd, is all about the world being a stage and the attractions, pitfalls, and necessities of role-playing. Again, having real women play these three roles is actually kinkier nowadays...Less entertaining and more distracting is Andrews's decision to put his actors in Alice Babidge's stunning glass box of a set, through which we see video operators taping the women's actions, which in turn are projected on to a big screen on the back wall of the stage. OK, they're actors. We get it.

Check back for updates!

Photo Credit: Lisa Tomasetti

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