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Theater Review: "The Maids" cleans up King's Books

Toy Boat Theatre is back in force

Toy Boat Theatre's production of Jean Genet's play about murderous sisters stars Deya Ozburn, left, as Solange, and Emily Rychlick, right, as Claire. Photo by Kali Raisl

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"Good acting in a humble house" is the motto of Marilyn Bennett's Toy Boat Theatre. Back from a two-and-a-half-year hiatus, Bennett brings Jean Genet's play, The Maids, to life among the stacks at King's Books. An affiliated event of the 2014 Tacoma Pride Festival, The Maids, is a dark, assuredly adult theatrical offering during the increasingly quirky "summer season" when smaller companies mount shows with very little competition from larger houses. (Well, except for the occasional production that extends their run a week or two due to high demand.) If you missed the play during Pride Festival, you have one more weekend to catch it.

Bennett worked on a production of The Maids previously but felt she wasn't quite finished wrestling with the complexities of the relationships within the play. Jean Genet wrote the one act in 1947, three years after his final stint in prison. A son of a Parisian prostitute, he was abandoned to an orphanage and became a ward of the state. After a short stint in public school and a change in status from "foster child to domestic servant," Genet began a pattern of running away, criminal activity, military service, desertion, political activist and prison occupant. While Genet was well versed in the sordid lifestyles that would make writing such a dark play easy, he was inspired to write The Maids by the Pepin sisters who were tried in 1933 for the brutal murder of their employer and her daughter.

Genet intended to have the three female characters played by men but most productions have cast all actresses (lady or female actors if you're not a fan of the word actresses) or a mix. Bennett chose a cast of two females for the maids Solange and Claire and a male for Madame. The play opens with Solange (Deya Ozburn) and Claire (Emily Rychlick) immersed in an elaborate and disturbing ritual. The sisters attempt to work through their hatred of their roles as servants to Madame (Ricky German). Each take turns as Madame and the other as the interchangeable maid, Solange/Claire, as they mock and demonize their employer. They are continuously halted in their attempts to realize the end of their gruesome game.

The acting abilities of the cast were good and Bennett's choice of Ozburn and Rychlick opposite each other as the sisters was particularly smart. Both women take, at times, manic turns through grandiose snobbery, murderous anger, shameful cowardice, determined resolution and a profound sadness that would leave many actors exhausted. Madame was not nearly as dynamic of a character for German to work with. While his portrayal was fine, without understanding the playwright's intent for gender in casting, Madame being played by a male may seem like the script is somehow missing some sort of explanation or scene to explain the relevance of Madame as a cross dresser. Regardless, the plot is intriguing and Ozburn and Rychlick are superb as the disturbed maids.

THE MAIDS, 10 p.m., July 18-19, Toy Boat Theatre at King's Books, 218 St. Helens Ave., Tacoma, $10 at

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