Maids, The (1964a)

Production, PROD.1964.0001

This production marked Tom O’Horgan’s directorial debut at La MaMa. According to Martin Russell (“Tom O’Horgan, Staging the Outrageous,” PhD Diss., CUNY, 1997), O’Horgan had been working on “The Maids,” with Jimmy Wigfall “in the small dance studio where they lived.” (p. 65) Wigfall mentioned their work to Ellen Stewart, who suggested they stage it at La MaMa. “Given the times,” O’Horgan later reflected, “we wanted to do ‘The Maids’ as closely as we could to what we understood Genet to have wanted—with the guys doing the parts. Nobody had done that, at least in this country at that point” (quoted in Russell, p. 65). As a contrast, O’Horgan cast a “very feminine young woman” in the role of Madame, and spritzed the audience with perfume when she first walked on stage. The show began with actors entering upstage as the audience entered, lit only by “the simple spill of an offstage bulb.” Quietly, the actors chatted with each other—talking about what they had done that day and whatever else was on their mind—while they “began getting into drag.” Slowly, they began peppering this conversation with lines from the play, “such that one never realized when the play had begun” (Russell, p. 66). Reviews of the production were mixed. Sydney Schubert Walter wrote, in the Village Voice, that it was “at once the least skillful and most interesting” version of the play that he had seen. He objected to several of the “bizarre accoutrements” that “embellished” the production—including the production’s “weird music” (which featured “David Schwartz’s unintelligible, counter-tenor voice”). He was also confused by the gendered subtext. He referred to the male performers as “transvestites” throughout his review, and alternately praised and criticized the effect of O’Horgan’s choice to cross-cast the maids roles. And although Walter thought “Tilla Petra turned in the best performance of the evening” he found “her presence on the stage…confusing.” Why, he wondered, “was Madame played by a woman” when the point of the show seemed to be to show “two transvestites” playing out “a fantasy within a fantasy”? This review provoked something of a debate, and the Voice subsequently published two letters to the editor containing differing opinions about O’Horgan’s work. 
The show ran from October 21-25, with two shows nightly—at 8 and 10pm. ;;