The Maids

“The Maids,” Camelot Artists Productions in association with
Vargo Productions
a kate west review
at Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254. S. Robertson, Beverly Hills
(323) 650-8729

For those a little rusty in Theater 101, Jean Genet was an internationally prominent French author famous for exposing the absurdity of life and emotion in his writing. The latest production of “The Maids” now playing at the Beverly Hills Playhouse is no exception. Genet’s own life defined contradiction. Publicly charged as a common thief, yet his real identity that of a brilliant author, his play also reflects that same dichotomy in life. Solange and Claire are two maids who take turns role-playing as mistress and servant. Genet’s own preference was to have men play all the parts in order to emphasize how illusionary one’s perception of life can be.

Director Maria Vargo takes the conventional approach and casts all women. She has the lead role as Solange, the older sister and the mastermind of the pair. The fact that they are sisters is yet another merging of identity; that of mistress and servant and sisters; Genet confuses roles by having the maids act out their daily game of pretend at the top of the play, surprising us when the supposed mistress suddenly turns back into a maid. Prevalent throughout is a deep self hatred and anger prompting the two sisters to plot their mistress’ demise. They hate and love her, pretend to be her, thus hating and loving themselves. An intensely introspective and uncomfortable work, “The Maids” forces the viewer to look into the deeply dark recesses of the human consciousness and soul.

Vargo plays an intensely determined Solange and holds her own opposite the irrepressible Madame, played by the delightful Natalia Magni. She gives a complex performance and is especially moving during her finally monologue, although Magni has a bit more of a naturally graceful stage presence. Stacy Stewart as Claire is the weaker link, her intentionally bad French accent as the pretend Madame a little grating and her performance stiff.

The audience is captured throughout with Vargas’ solid directing and pulled into the cold horror as the sisters suffer dire consequences from their plot to kill Madame. Solange, the supposed braver of the two actually does nothing while her more delicate sister actively displays courage in a final desperate act. The underlying homosexual and sadism-masochism may be a little intense for some patrons, but those familiar with Genet will find it par for the course. On the whole, the production may have been more impressive with a stronger commitment from some of the actors. Read more!


“Passion” by Stephen Sondheim
a kate west review
at the East West Players, David Henry Hwang Theater
120 Judge John Iso Street, Los Angeles 90012, (213) 625-7000
Running September 10 – October 5, 2003

Most Sondheim musicals are difficult to stage, given the complexity of the music as well as the emotional depth each character exhibits. The East West Players do a fine job in their recent show “Passion.” From the fascinatingly dark set design (Victoria Petrovich) to the particular and economical directing by Tim Dang (also Artistic Director), this production certainly does justice to one of Sondheim’s best later works.

This achingly powerful and passionate story shows us the obsessive lengths to which someone in love will go. Handsome soldier Giorgio, aptly portrayed by Michael Dalager, is stationed in a strange, far-off barracks. There he befriends the host, Colonel Ricci (Orville Mendoza), brother to the odd, house-bound, invalid Fosca, exquisitely played by Jacqueline Kim. Fosca becomes immediately enamored of Giorgio and her passion for him initially repulses him and drives him away but he gradually sees that he cannot get her out of his mind and ultimately succumbs to her chronic seduction. At first he believes that he is in love with Clara (Linda Igarashi) who is a married mother. She refuses to leave her husband and that inspires Giorgio to see that Fosca’s twisted love for him is the only true passion in his life. From beginning to end, each character undergoes profoundly painful change in realizing the potential for deep passion. The climax of the play is a dramatic duel between Colonel Ricci and Giorgio, over the honor of Fosca.

While Michael Dalager (Giorgio) demonstrates the wonderful emotional resonance of a tortured lover, it is Jacqueline Kim as Fosca who steals the show. She perfects the consumptive’s sickly cough and the awkwardness of a deeply shy and backward woman who finds the strength to become her own woman, through the fierce love she has for Giorgio. Her characterization is inspired and her stage presence magnificently compelling. Orville Mendoza as the Colonel and Michael Hagiwara as Doctor Tambourri are among the minor characters who are not as strong in the ensemble but the main characters are well up to the task of creating magic.

Scott Nagatani does a fine job as Musical Director, not an easy feat with a Sondheim musical. The dark music is slightly discordant which serves to remind us that love does not follow normal paths in life and that there is never one true definition. Overall, the production is very strong musically and the dramatic conflicts well played out. It is well worth checking out this intensely odd and poignant piece.

Passion (1994 Original Broadway Cast) Read more!