The Maids (French: Les Bonnes) is a play by the French dramatist Jean Genet. It was first performed at the Théâtre de l'Athénée in Paris in a production that opened on 17 April 1947, which Louis Jouvet directed. A film adaptation of the play was released in 1974. Swedish composer Peter Bengtson (sv) adapted the play in 1994 for a chamber opera.
Genet loosely based his play on the infamous Papin sisters, Lea and Christine, who brutally murdered their employer and her daughter in Le Mans, France, in 1933, although the play is not the story of the Papin sisters as such. According to Jean-Paul Sartre, Genet's original intention was that the three protagonists, Madame and the maids Solange and Claire, be performed by male actors. Some productions have cast men in the roles, but most have cast women.
Solange and Claire are two housemaids who construct elaborate sadomasochistic rituals when their mistress (Madame) is away. The focus of their role-playing is the murder of Madame and they take turns portraying both sides of the power divide. Their deliberate pace and devotion to detail guarantees that they always fail to actualize their fantasies by ceremoniously "killing" Madame at the ritual's dénouement.
In Britain, the play was first presented in French by the Institute of Contemporary Arts, initially at the Mercury Theatre, Notting Hill Gate, London in 1952. Peter Zadek directed, while Eduardo Paolozzi provided the scenic design. Selma Vaz Dias played Solange, Olive Gregg played Claire, and Oriel Ross played Madame. The production subsequently transferred to the Royal Court Theatre, where Betty Stockfeld played Madame and David de Bethel provided the scenic design. Zadek also directed the play's first production in Britain in English, which opened on 5 June 1956 at the New Lindsey Theatre Club. Selma Vaz Dias again played Solange and Betty Stockfeld played Madame, while Hazel Penwarden played Claire. Nigel Whittaker designed the sets for that production.
The play was revived at the Greenwich Theatre in 1973 with the actresses Vivien Merchant as Madame, Glenda Jackson as Solange and Susannah York as Claire. This production was filmed as part of the American Film Theatre series in 1974, directed by Christopher Miles and photographed by Douglas Slocombe.
An all-male production was staged in Moscow in 1992, a major breakthrough for Russian theater at the time.
In Australia, a 2013 Sydney Theatre Company production, adapted by Andrew Upton and directed by Benedict Andrews, starred Cate Blanchett as Claire, Isabelle Huppert as Solange and Elizabeth Debicki as the Mistress.
- Frechtman (1989, 33) and Banham (1998, 417).
- "Veteran actor Diane D'Aquila sharpens her theatrical edge". The Globe and Mail, September 19, 2011.
- Frechtman (1963, 6).
- Chapman (2008, 184).
- Chapman (2008, 186).
- STC – The Maids
- "Maids of dishonour, Cate Blanchett and Elizabeth Debicki, unite for STC's Genet", a wide-ranging review by Sharon Verghis, The Australian, June 1, 2013
- Banham, Martin, ed. 1998. The Cambridge Guide to Theatre. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. ISBN 0-521-43437-8.
- Chapman, Don. 2008. Oxford Playhouse: High and Low Drama in a University City. Hatfield: U of Hertfordshire P. ISBN 1-902806-87-5.
- Frechtman, Bernard, trans. 1963. The Maids. By Jean Genet. London: Faber. ISBN 0-571-05461-7.
- ---. 1989. The Maids and Deathwatch: Two Plays. By Jean Genet. London: Faber. ISBN 0-571-14856-5.
- Oswald, Laura. 1989. Jean Genet and the Semiotics of Performance. Advances in Semiotics ser. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana UP. ISBN 0-253-33152-8.
- Savona, Jeannette L. 1983. Jean Genet. Grove Press Modern Dramatists ser. New York: Grove P. ISBN 0-394-62045-3.