The Maids

schoel strang & colleen macisaac

The Maids, Jean Genet’s 1947 play loosely based on the infamous Papin sisters, two maids who brutally murdered their employer and her daughter in 1933, is given an intense and intellectually riveting production as part of the Atlantic Fringe Festival.

The play is centered on sisters, Solange and Claire, two maids who use sadomasochistic role playing to explore many complex and psychological themes including the subjugation of the lower class and rejection of authority. The sisters take turns playing “The Maid” and playing Madame, as well as between being the dominant figure and being the submissive, sometimes in the blink of an eyelid. The culmination of their “game” is to act out the murder of Madame and as the play progresses the line between imagination and reality becomes increasingly and tragically blurred.

There was a lot I really liked about this production. Colleen MacIsaac plays Solange and the ire in her eyes at times is so menacing I half expected her to be able to incinerate objects simply by looking at them. Schoel Strang gives a marvelous performance as Claire who oscillates between the meekness of a baby sister to mad frenzy to the ostentatious “Madame” to shrewd dominatrix, like a yoyo gone haywire. I found that Strang was the most consistent in making bold, clear choices that betrayed a bit of the subtext and inner motivations of her mind while still continually keeping the audience off kilter and unsure which direction the sisters would move in next.

Jennette White directs the piece and there are many fascinating moments, including a disturbing bedroom scene with the two sisters, some forceful physical moments and one of my favourite aspects of the play, which was the sisterly relationship that emerged every once and awhile, as though a fog had cleared, when Solange and Claire became reminiscent of young children. This allusion to the loss of innocence, the perversion of “play” and the disintegration of the pure love these girls once had for each other, and presumably for themselves, highlights nicely the tragedy of the piece.

I found it interesting that White chose to have the Madame, played by Holly Arsenault, every bit as grandiloquent, grandiose, affected and loftily condescending as Solange and Claire play her to be. It is actually remarkable how identical Arsenault’s Madame is to Claire’s Madame, which gives the dark and somber piece a little bit of welcome humour. Madame in this piece is very clearly presented as “Other” from the two girls, and thus represents all that the maids see as being reprehensible and unfair in the society they are entrenched in. So, it seems as though the audience is being persuaded to align themselves with the maids since Madame’s humanity and redeeming qualities only peak through momentarily. I would be interested in seeing more of a disparity between the way the maids perceive Madame and the way she is presented to the audience as it further complicates the audience’s relationship with the play.

This is a fascinating play and one that explores timeless and complex themes that will likely ruminate in your brain long after you leave the theatre.


The Maids plays at the North Street Church (5657 North Street) at the following times:

Sunday September 2nd at 7:30pm

Friday September 7th at 9:30pm

Saturday September 8th at 12:00pm

It is $7.00 to book tickets please visit this website or call (902) 999-7469 or visit the Box Office at the Seaport Farmers’ Market at Pavilion 20 on Marginal Road. Tickets are also available at the venue ONE hour before the show. 

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