You can be drawn into it so easily and go too far. And I think that’s sexy,” says Ron Kennell, who stars in Buddies’ season-opening production of Jean Genet’s The Maids
. “The desire to perform, to be someone else, to live out your fantasies can be intoxicating and dangerous and compelling.”
“Genet was all about ‘The more abject I feel, the more dirty and shameful I feel, the more horny and turned on I feel,’” adds director Brendan Healy.
is a dark drama of two sisters engaged in elaborate sadomasochistic role-playing fantasies. It is loosely based on the story of Léa and Christine Papin, French maids who murdered their employer and her daughter in 1933. The sisters were championed as revolutionaries by radicals and as monsters by the middle class. Genet, who was both a gay man and a criminal, was fixated on ideas of otherness. “There’s a famous story of him being accused of theft when he was nine,” Healy says. “He was adopted and living in a foster family, and they beat him for it even though he hadn’t stolen a thing. He realized in that moment that it didn’t matter whether he was a robber or not; people would always think he was, so he just decided to become a robber.”
Healy feels that producing challenging work is important in the current social climate. “There seems to be this emergence of homophobic discussion, around whether Pride should be funded by the city, in the comments sections of newspapers,” he says. “This summer there was this moment where I was like, ‘They will never accept us.’ We might act like straight people, we might marry like them, we might do all sorts of things to make ourselves acceptable, but fundamentally, they will never accept faggots and they will never accept dykes.”
Kennell, a Stratford favourite, will appear alongside Diane D’Aquila and Maria Ricossa as one of the two sisters, exploring the character as a man who has always identified as a woman, riffing on ideas of fantasy and performance. “She’s allowed that privilege in this house, and it’s sort of a novelty for the mistress to have someone like that — to talk about, perhaps in hushed tones, how exciting it is to be waited on by such an effeminate and feminine man.”
Genet originally intended for all three roles to be played by men. But Healy is not interested in an exclusively male cast: “I was interested in the relationship between a man playing a woman and a woman playing a woman.” He notes the obstacles that effeminate gay men continue to face: “Masculine gay men seem to enjoy a certain position of privilege, whereas the really queeny, effeminate men are still really ostracized, still a real threat.”
Healy considers The Maids
a queer classic: “Genet is a father of our culture. He’s one of the originators of queerness.” The play itself, first performed in 1947, taps the vein of our history. “We want to start our season with one of our queer classics, which so often gets done in classical theatre companies, where the queerness is sort of taken out of it.” A quotation from Genet in Buddies’ season brochure sums up this quest for a queer revolution: “If we behave like those on the other side, then we are the other side. Instead of changing the world, all we’ll achieve is a reflection of the one we want to destroy.” It should be a fun season.
The Maids runs Sat, Sept 17 to Sun, Oct 9 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 12 Alexander St. buddiesinbadtimes.com
Michael Lyons has always found revolutionaries extraordinarily sexy.