CHICAGO—It’s a terrific idea, really: The Artistic Home has mounted a production of Jean Genet’s The Maids with two drag queens in the title roles. The play, about a pair of sisters who play-act the murder of their mistress every night, always without reaching the violent conclusion, is ideally suited to the uncanny exaggerations of drag. With their thick eyeliner and overpainted lips, Patience Darling (Claire) and Hinkypunk (Solange) look like automatons out of E.T.A. Hoffmann, and the effect is spectacular.
Unfortunately, director Michael Conroy doesn’t seem to have thought much about the concept beyond its initial gimmickry. There is really nothing about this production that would change if the maids were played by cis women, and all that potential—this is a play, after all, about performing identity—is wasted.
Furthermore, both Ms. Darling and Hinkypunk are dull, uninspired actors. Sometimes they rush, sometimes they lag, and often they seem to be remembering their lines rather than reciting them. There is no urgency here; everything plods along without the slightest sense of menace or eroticism. This Maids only comes alive when Brookelyn Hebert (Madame) is onstage. She never quite reveals what her character is thinking. When she notices that Claire is wearing her makeup, for example, does she know more than she lets on? Is she truly flighty, or is her frivolity and her staccato giggle just another performance? This is precisely the kind of tension that should be maintained throughout—but once she leaves, the tedium returns. It’s a long ninety minutes.